IN THE year 1799Captain Amasa Delanoof Duxburyin Massachusettscommanding a large sealer and
general traderlay at anchorwith a valuable cargoin the harbour of St.Maria- a smalldesertuninhabited island
towards the southern extremity of the long coast of Chili. There he hadtouched for water.
On the second daynot long after dawnwhile lying in his berthhis matecame belowinforming him that a
strange sail was coming into the bay. Ships were then not so plenty in thosewaters as now. He rosedressedand went
The morning was one peculiar to that coast. Everything was mute and calm;everything grey. The seathough
undulated into long roods of swellsseemed fixedand was sleeked at thesurface like waved lead that has cooled and set
in the smelter's mould. The sky seemed a grey mantle. Flights of troubledgrey fowlkith and kin with flights of troubled
grey vapours among which they were mixedskimmed low and fitfully over thewatersas swallows over meadows
before storms. Shadows presentforeshadowing deeper shadows to come.
To Captain Delano's surprisethe strangerviewed through the glassshowedno colours; though to do so upon
entering a havenhowever uninhabited in its shoreswhere but a single othership might be lyingwas the custom among
peaceful seamen of all nations. Considering the lawlessness and loneliness ofthe spotand the sort of storiesat that day
associated with those seasCaptain Delano's surprise might have deepenedinto some uneasiness had he not been a
person of a singularly undistrustful good naturenot liableexcept onextraordinary and repeated excitementand hardly
thento indulge in personal alarmsany way involving the imputation ofmalign evil in man. Whetherin view of what
humanity is capablesuch a trait impliesalong with a benevolent heartmore than ordinary quickness and accuracy of
intellectual perceptionmay be left to the wise to determine.
But whatever misgivings might have obtruded on first seeing the strangerwould almostin any seaman's mind
have been dissipated by observing that the shipin navigating into theharbourwas drawing too near the landfor her
own safety's sakeowing to a sunken reef making out off her bow. This seemedto prove her a strangerindeednot only
to the sealerbut the island; consequentlyshe could be no wontedfreebooter on that ocean. With no small interest
Captain Delano continued to watch her- a proceeding not much facilitated bythe vapours partly mantling the hull
through which the far matin light from her cabin streamed equivocally enough;much like the sun- by this time
crescented on the rim of the horizonand apparentlyin company with thestrange shipentering the harbour- which
wimpled by the same lowcreeping cloudsshowed not unlike a Limaintriguante's one sinister eye peering across the
Plaza from the Indian loop-hole of her dusk saya-y-manta.
It might have been but a deception of the vapoursbutthe longer thestranger was watchedthe more singular
appeared her manoeuvres. Ere long it seemed hard to decide whether she meantto come in or no- what she wantedor
what she was about. The windwhich had breezed up a little during the nightwas now extremely light and baffling
which the more increased the apparent uncertainty of her movements.
Surmisingat lastthat it might be a ship in distressCaptain Delanoordered his whale-boat to be droppedand
much to the wary opposition of his mateprepared to board herandat theleastpilot her in. On the night previousa
fishing-party of the seamen had gone a long distance to some detached rocksout of sight from the sealerandan hour or
two before day-breakhad returnedhaving met with no small success.Presuming that the stranger might have been long
off soundingsthe good captain put several baskets of the fishfor presentsinto his boatand so pulled away. From her
continuing too near the sunken reefdeeming her in dangercalling to hismenhe made all haste to apprise those on
board of their situation. Butsome time ere the boat came upthe windlight though it washaving shiftedhad headed
the vessel offas well as partly broken the vapours from about her.
Upon gaining a less remote viewthe shipwhen made signally visible on theverge of the leaden-hued swells
with the shreds of fog here and there raggedly furring herappeared like awhitewashed monastery after a thunder-storm
seen perched upon some dun cliff among the Pyrenees. But it was no purelyfanciful resemblance which nowfor a
momentalmost led Captain Delano to think that nothing less than a ship-loadof monks was before him. Peering over
the bulwarks were what really seemedin the hazy distancethrongs of darkcowls; whilefitfully revealed through the
open port-holesother dark moving figures were dimly descriedas of BlackFriars pacing the cloisters.
Upon a still nigher approachthis appearance was modifiedand the truecharacter of the vessel was plain- a
Spanish merchantman of the first class; carrying Negro slavesamongst othervaluable freightfrom one colonial port to
another. A very largeandin its timea very fine vesselsuch as in thosedays were at intervals encountered along that
main; sometimes superseded Acapulco treasure-shipsor retired frigates ofthe Spanish king's navywhichlike
superannuated Italian palacesstillunder a decline of masterspreservedsigns of former state.
As the whale-boat drew more and more nighthe cause of the peculiarpipe-clayed aspect of the stranger was
seen in the slovenly neglect pervading her. The sparsropesand great partof the bulwarks looked woollyfrom long
unacquaintance with the scrapertarand the brush. Her keel seemed laidher ribs put togetherand she launchedfrom
Ezekiel's Valley of Dry Bones..HermanMelville Benito Cereno
In the present business in which she was engagedthe ship's general modeland rig appeared to have undergone
no material change from their original warlike and Froissart pattern. Howeverno guns were seen.
The tops were largeand were railed about with what had once been octagonalnet-workall now in sad
disrepair. These tops hung overhead like three ruinous aviariesin one ofwhich was seen perchedon a ratlina white
noddya strange fowlso called from its lethargic somnambulistic characterbeing frequently caught by hand at sea.
Battered and mouldythe castellated forecastle seemed some ancient turretlong ago taken by assaultand then left to
decay. Towards the sterntwo high-raised quarter galleries- the balustradeshere and there covered with drytindery sea-moss-
opening out from the unoccupied state-cabinwhose dead lightsfor all themild weatherwere hermetically
closed and caulked- these tenantless balconies hung over the sea as if itwere the grand Venetian canal. But the principal
relic of faded grandeur was the ample oval of the shield-like stern-pieceintricately carved with the arms of Castile and
Leonmedallioned about by groups of mythological or symbolical devices;uppermost and central of which was a dark
satyr in a maskholding his foot on the prostrate neck of a writhing figurelikewise masked.
Whether the ship had a figure-heador only a plain beakwas not quitecertainowing to canvas wrapped about
that parteither to protect it while undergoing a refurbishingor elsedecently to hide its decay. Rudely painted or
chalkedas in a sailor freakalong the forward side of a sort of pedestalbelow the canvaswas the sentence"Seguid
vuestro jefe" (follow your leader); while upon the tarnished head-boardsnear byappearedin stately capitalsonce gilt
the ship's name"SAN DOMINICK" each letter streakingly corrodedwith tricklings of copper-spike rust; whilelike
mourning weedsdark festoons of sea-grass slimily swept to and fro over thenamewith every hearse-like roll of the
As at last the boat was hooked from the bow along toward the gangway amidshipits keelwhile yet some inches
separated from the hullharshly grated as on a sunken coral reef. It proveda huge bunch of conglobated barnacles
adhering below the water to the side like a wen; a token of baffling airs andlong calms passed somewhere in those seas.
Climbing the sidethe visitor was at once surrounded by a clamorous throngof whites and blacksbut the latter
outnumbering the former more than could have been expectedNegrotransportation-ship as the stranger in port was.
Butin one languageand as with one voiceall poured out a common tale ofsuffering; in which the Negressesof whom
there were not a fewexceeded the others in their dolorous vehemence. Thescurvytogether with a feverhad swept off
a great part of their numbermore especially the Spaniards. Off Cape Hornthey had narrowly escaped shipwreck; then
for days togetherthey had lain tranced without wind; their provisions werelow; their water next to none; their lips that
moment were baked.
While Captain Delano was thus made the mark of all eager tongueshis oneeager glance took in all the faces
with every other object about him.
Always upon first boarding a large and populous ship at seaespecially aforeign onewith a nondescript crew
such as Lascars or Manilla menthe impression varies in a peculiar way fromthat produced by first entering a strange
house with strange inmates in a strange land. Both house and shipthe one byits walls and blindsthe other by its high
bulwarks like rampartshoard from view their interiors till the last moment;but in the case of the ship there is this
addition: that the living spectacle it containsupon its sudden and completedisclosurehasin contrast with the blank
ocean which zones itsomething of the effect of enchantment. The ship seemsunreal; these strange costumesgestures
and facesbut a shadowy tableau just emerged from the deepwhich directlymust receive back what it gave.
Perhaps it was some such influence as above is attempted to be describedwhichin Captain Delano's mind
heightened whateverupon a staid scrutinymight have seemed unusual;especially the conspicuous figures of four
elderly grizzled Negroestheir heads like blackdoddered willow topswhoin venerable contrast to the tumult below
themwere couched sphynx-likeone on the starboard cat-headanother on thelarboardand the remaining pair face to
face on the opposite bulwarks above the main-chains. They each had bits ofunstranded old junk in their handsandwith
a sort of stoical self-contentwere picking the junk into oakuma smallheap of which lay by their sides. They
accompanied the task with a continuouslowmonotonous chant; droning anddrooling away like so many grey-headed
bag-pipers playing a funeral march.
The quarter-deck rose into an ample elevated poopupon the forward verge ofwhichliftedlike the oakum-pickers
some eight feet above the general throngsat along in a rowseparated byregular spacesthe cross-legged
figures of six other blacks; each with a rusty hatchet in his handwhichwith a bit of brick and a raghe was engaged
like a scullion in scouring; while between each two was a small stack ofhatchetstheir rusted edges turned forward
awaiting a like operation. Though occasionally the four oakum-pickers wouldbriefly address some person or persons in
the crowd belowyet the six hatchet-polishers neither spoke to othersnorbreathed a whisper among themselvesbut sat
intent upon their taskexcept at intervalswhenwith the peculiar love inNegroes of uniting industry with pastimetwo-and-
two they sideways clashed their hatchets togetherlike cymbalswith abarbarous din. All sixunlike the generality
had the raw aspect of unsophisticated Africans.
But the first comprehensive glance which took in those ten figureswithscores less conspicuousrested but an
instant upon themasimpatient of the hubbub of voicesthe visitor turnedin quest of whomsoever it might be that
commanded the ship.
But as if not unwilling to let nature make known her own case among hissuffering chargeor else in despair of
restraining it for the timethe Spanish captaina gentlemanlyreserved-lookingand rather young man to a stranger's.HermanMelville Benito Cereno
eyedressed with singular richnessbut bearing plain traces of recentsleepless cares and disquietudesstood passively
byleaning against the main-mastat one moment casting a drearyspiritlesslook upon his excited peopleat the next an
unhappy glance toward his visitor. By his side stood a black of smallstaturein whose rude faceas occasionallylike a
shepherd's doghe mutely turned it up into the Spaniard'ssorrow andaffection were equally blended.
Struggling through the throngthe American advanced to the Spaniardassuring him of his sympathiesand
offering to render whatever assistance might be in his power. To which theSpaniard returnedfor the presentbut grave
and ceremonious acknowledgmentshis national formality dusked by thesaturnine mood of ill health.
But losing no time in mere complimentsCaptain Delano returning to thegangwayhad his baskets of fish
brought up; and as the wind still continued lightso that some hours atleast must elapse ere the ship could be brought to
the anchoragehe bade his men return to the sealerand fetch back as muchwater as the whaleboat could carrywith
whatever soft bread the steward might haveall the remaining pumpkins onboardwith a box of sugarand a dozen of
his private bottles of cider.
Not many minutes after the boat's pushing offto the vexation of allthewind entirely died awayand the tide
turningbegan drifting back the ship helplessly seaward. But trusting thiswould not lastCaptain Delano sought with
good hopes to cheer up the strangersfeeling no small satisfaction thatwith persons in their condition he could- thanks
to his frequent voyages along the Spanish main- converse with some freedom intheir native tongue.
While left alone with themhe was not long in observing some things tendingto heighten his first impressions;
but surprise was lost in pityboth for the Spaniards and blacksalikeevidently reduced from scarcity of water and
provisions; while long-continued suffering seemed to have brought out theless good-natured qualities of the Negroes
besidesat the same timeimpairing the Spaniard's authority over them. Butunder the circumstancesprecisely this
condition of things was to have been anticipated. In armiesnaviescitiesor families- in nature herself- nothing more
relaxes good order than misery. StillCaptain Delano was not without theideathat had Benito Cereno been a man of
greater energymisrule would hardly have come to the present pass. But thedebilityconstitutional or induced by the
hardshipsbodily and mentalof the Spanish captainwas too obvious to beoverlooked. A prey to settled dejectionas if
long mocked with hope he would not now indulge iteven when it had ceased tobe a mockthe prospect of that day or
evening at furthestlying at anchorwith plenty of water for his peopleand a brother captain to counsel and befriend
seemed in no perceptible degree to encourage him. His mind appeared unstrungif not still more seriously affected. Shut
up in these oaken wallschained to one dull round of commandwhoseunconditionality cloyed himlike some
hypochondriac abbot he moved slowly aboutat times suddenly pausingstartingor staringbiting his lipbiting his
finger-nailflushingpalingtwitching his beardwith other symptoms of anabsent or moody mind. This distempered
spirit was lodgedas before hintedin as distempered a frame. He was rathertallbut seemed never to have been robust
and now with nervous suffering was almost worn to a skeleton. A tendency tosome pulmonary complaint appeared to
have been lately confirmed. His voice was like that of one with lungs halfgonehoarsely suppresseda husky whisper.
No wonder thatas in this state he tottered abouthis private servantapprehensively followed him. Sometimes the Negro
gave his master his armor took his handkerchief out of his pocket for him;performing these and similar offices with
that affectionate zeal which transmutes into something filial or fraternalacts in themselves but menial; and which has
gained for the Negro the repute of making the most pleasing body-servant inthe world; onetoowhom a master need be
on no stiffly superior terms withbut may treat with familiar trust; less aservant than a devoted companion.
Marking the noisy indocility of the blacks in generalas well as what seemedthe sullen inefficiency of the
whitesit was not without humane satisfaction that Captain Delano witnessedthe steady good conduct of Babo.
But the good conduct of Babohardly more than the ill-behaviour of othersseemed to withdraw the half-lunatic
Don Benito from his cloudy languor. Not that such precisely was theimpression made by the Spaniard on the mind of
his visitor. The Spaniard's individual unrest wasfor the presentbut notedas a conspicuous feature in the ship's general
affliction. StillCaptain Delano was not a little concerned at what he couldnot help taking for the time to be Don
Benito's unfriendly indifference toward himself. The Spaniard's mannertooconveyed a sort of sour and gloomy
disdainwhich he seemed at no pains to disguise. But this the American incharity ascribed to the harassing effects of
sicknesssincein former instanceshe had noted that there are peculiarnatures on whom prolonged physical suffering
seems to cancel every social instinct of kindness; as if forced to blackbread themselvesthey deemed it but equity that
each person coming nigh them shouldindirectlyby some slight or affrontbe made to partake of their fare.
But ere long Captain Delano bethought him thatindulgent as he was at thefirstin judging the Spaniardhe
might notafter allhave exercised charity enough. At bottom it was DonBenito's reserve which displeased him; but the
same reserve was shown toward all but his personal attendant. Even the formalreports whichaccording to sea-usage
were at stated times made to him by some petty underling (either a whitemulatto or black)he hardly had patience
enough to listen towithout betraying contemptuous aversion. His manner uponsuch occasions wasin its degreenot
unlike that which might be supposed to have been his imperial countryman'sCharles V.just previous to the anchoritish
retirement of that monarch from the throne.
This splenetic disrelish of his place was evinced in almost every functionpertaining to it. Proud as he was
moodyhe condescended to no personal mandate. Whatever special orders werenecessarytheir delivery was delegated
to his body-servantwho in turn transferred them to their ultimatedestinationthrough runnersalert Spanish boys or
slave boyslike pages or pilot-fish within easy call continually hoveringround Don Benito. So that to have beheld this.HermanMelville Benito Cereno
undemonstrative invalid gliding aboutapathetic and muteno landsman couldhave dreamed that in him was lodged a
dictatorship beyond whichwhile at seathere was no earthly appeal.
Thusthe Spaniardregarded in his reserveseemed as the involuntary victimof mental disorder. Butin facthis
reserve mightin some degreehave proceeded from design. If sothen in DonBenito was evinced the unhealthy climax
of that icy though conscientious policymore or less adopted by allcommanders of large shipswhichexcept in signal
emergenciesobliterates alike the manifestation of sway with every trace ofsociality; transforming the man into a block
or rather into a loaded cannonwhichuntil there is call for thunderhasnothing to say.
Viewing him in this lightit seemed but a natural token of the perversehabit induced by a long course of such
hard self-restraintthatnotwithstanding the present condition of his shipthe Spaniard should still persist in a
demeanourwhichhowever harmless- or it may beappropriate- in awell-appointed vesselsuch as the San Dominick
might have been at the outset of the voyagewas anything but judicious now.But the Spaniard perhaps thought that it
was with captains as with gods: reserveunder all eventsmust still betheir cue. But more probably this appearance of
slumbering dominion might have been but an attempted disguise to consciousimbecility- not deep policybut shallow
device. But be all this as it mightwhether Don Benito's manner was designedor notthe more Captain Delano noted its
pervading reservethe less he felt uneasiness at any particularmanifestation of that reserve toward himself.
Neither were his thoughts taken up by the captain alone. Wonted to the quietorderliness of the sealer's
comfortable family of a crewthe noisy confusion of the San Dominick'ssuffering host repeatedly challenged his eye.
Some prominent breaches not only of discipline but of decency were observed.These Captain Delano could not but
ascribein the mainto the absence of those subordinate deck-officers towhomalong with higher dutiesis entrusted
what may be styled the police department of a populous ship. Truethe oldoakum-pickers appeared at times to act the
part of monitorial constables to their countrymenthe blacks; but thoughoccasionally succeeding in allaying trifling
outbreaks now and then between man and manthey could do little or nothingtoward establishing general quiet. The
San Dominick was in the condition of a transatlantic emigrant shipamongwhose multitude of living freight are some
individualsdoubtlessas little troublesome as crates and bales; but thefriendly remonstrances of such with their ruder
companions are of not so much avail as the unfriendly arm of the mate. Whatthe San Dominick wanted waswhat the
emigrant ship hasstern superior officers. But on these decks not so much asa fourth mate was to be seen.
The visitor's curiosity was roused to learn the particulars of those mishapswhich had brought about such
absenteeismwith its consequences; becausethough deriving some inkling ofthe voyage from the wails which at the
first moment had greeted himyet of the details no clear understanding hadbeen had. The best account would
doubtlessbe given by the captain. Yet at first the visitor was loth to askitunwilling to provoke some distant rebuff.
But plucking up couragehe at last accosted Don Benitorenewing theexpression of his benevolent interestaddingthat
did he (Captain Delano) but know the particulars of the ship's misfortuneshe wouldperhapsbe better able in the end
to relieve them. Would Don Benito favour him with the whole story?
Don Benito faltered; thenlike some somnambulist suddenly interfered withvacantly stared at his visitorand
ended by looking down on the deck. He maintained this posture so longthatCaptain Delanoalmost equally
disconcertedand involuntarily almost as rudeturned suddenly from himwalking forward to accost one of the Spanish
seamen for the desired information. But he had hardly gone five paceswhenwith a sort of eagerness Don Benito invited
him backregretting his momentary absence of mindand professing readinessto gratify him.
While most part of the story was being giventhe two captains stood on theafter part of the main-decka
privileged spotno one being near but the servant.
"It is now a hundred and ninety days" began the Spaniardin hishusky whisper"that this shipwell officered
and well mannedwith several cabin passengers- some fifty Spaniards in all-sailed from Buenos Ayres bound to Lima
with a general cargoParaguay tea and the like- and" pointing forward"that parcel of Negroesnow not more than a
hundred and fiftyas you seebut then numbering over three hundred souls.Off Cape Horn we had heavy gales. In one
momentby nightthree of my best officerswith fifteen sailorswere lostwith the main-yard; the spar snapping under
them in the slingsas they soughtwith heaversto beat down the icy sail.To lighten the hullthe heavier sacks of mata
were thrown into the seawith most of the water-pipes lashed on deck at thetime. And this last necessity it was
combined with the prolonged detentions afterwards experiencedwhicheventually brought about our chief causes of
Here there was a sudden fainting attack of his coughbrought onno doubtby his mental distress. His servant
sustained himand drawing a cordial from his pocket placed it to his lips.He a little revived. But unwilling to leave him
unsupported while yet imperfectly restoredthe black with one arm stillencircled his masterat the same time keeping
his eye fixed on his faceas if to watch for the first sign of completerestorationor relapseas the event might prove.
The Spaniard proceededbut brokenly and obscurelyas one in a dream.
-"Ohmy God! rather than pass through what I havewith joy I wouldhave hailed the most terrible gales; but-"
His cough returned and with increased violence; this subsidingwith reddenedlips and closed eyes he fell
heavily against his supporter.
"His mind wanders. He was thinking of the plague that followed the gales"plaintively sighed the servant; "my
poorpoor master!" wringing one handand with the other wiping themouth. "But be patientSenor" again turning to
Captain Delano"these fits do not last long; master will soon behimself.".Herman MelvilleBenito Cereno
Don Benito revivingwent on; but as this portion of the story was verybrokenly deliveredthe substance only
will here be set down.
It appeared that after the ship had been many days tossed in storms off theCapethe scurvy broke outcarrying
off numbers of the whites and blacks. When at last they had worked round intothe Pacifictheir spars and sails were so
damagedand so inadequately handled by the surviving marinersmost of whomwere become invalidsthatunable to
lay her northerly course by the windwhich was powerfulthe unmanageableship for successive days and nights was
blown northwestwardwhere the breeze suddenly deserted herin unknownwatersto sultry calms. The absence of the
water-pipes now proved as fatal to life as before their presence had menacedit. Inducedor at least aggravatedby the
more than scanty allowance of watera malignant fever followed the scurvy;with the excessive heat of the lengthened
calmmaking such short work of it as to sweep awayas by billowswholefamilies of the Africansand a yet larger
numberproportionallyof the Spaniardsincludingby a luckless fatalityevery officer on board. Consequentlyin the
smart west winds eventually following the calmthe already rent sails havingto be simply droppednot furledat need
had been gradually reduced to the beggar's rags they were now. To procuresubstitutes for his lost sailorsas well as
supplies of water and sailsthe captain at the earliest opportunity had madefor Baldiviathe southermost civilized port
of Chili and South America; but upon nearing the coast the thick weather hadprevented him from so much as sighting
that harbour. Since which periodalmost without a crewand almost withoutcanvas and almost without waterand at
intervals giving its added dead to the seathe San Dominick had beenbattle-dored about by contrary windsinveigled by
currentsor grown weedy in calms. Like a man lost in woodsmore than onceshe had doubled upon her own track.
"But throughout these calamities" huskily continued Don Benitopainfully turning in the half embrace of his
servant"I have to thank those Negroes you seewhothough to yourinexperienced eyes appearing unrulyhaveindeed
conducted themselves with less of restlessness than even their owner couldhave thought possible under such
Here he again fell faintly back. Again his mind wandered: but he ralliedandless obscurely proceeded.
"Yestheir owner was quite right in assuring me that no fetters wouldbe needed with his blacks; so that whileas
is wont in this transportationthose Negroes have always remained upon deck-not thrust belowas in the Guineamen-they
havealsofrom the beginningbeen freely permitted to range within givenbounds at their pleasure."
Once more the faintness returned- his mind roved- butrecoveringhe resumed:
"But it is Babo here to whomunder GodI owe not only my ownpreservationbut likewise to himchieflythe
merit is dueof pacifying his more ignorant brethrenwhen at intervalstempted to murmurings."
"Ahmaster" sighed the blackbowing his face"don't speakof me; Babo is nothing; what Babo has done was
"Faithful fellow!" cried Captain Delano. "Don BenitoI envyyou such a friend; slave I cannot call him."
As master and man stood before himthe black upholding the whiteCaptainDelano could not but bethink him
of the beauty of that relationship which could present such a spectacle offidelity on the one hand and confidence on the
other. The scene was heightened by the contrast in dressdenoting theirrelative positions. The Spaniard wore a loose
Chili jacket of dark velvet; white small clothes and stockingswith silverbuckles at the knee and instep; a high-crowned
sombreroof fine grass; a slender swordsilver mountedhung from a knot inhis sash; the last being an almost
invariable adjunctmore for utility than ornamentof a South Americangentleman's dress to this hour. Excepting when
his occasional nervous contortions brought about disarraythere was acertain precision in his attirecuriously at
variance with the unsightly disorder around; especially in the belitteredGhettoforward of the main-mastwholly
occupied by the blacks.
The servant wore nothing but wide trousersapparentlyfrom their coarsenessand patchesmade out of some old
top-sail; they were cleanand confined at the waist by a bit of unstrandedropewhichwith his composeddeprecatory
air at timesmade him look something like a begging friar of St. Francis.
However unsuitable for the time and placeat least in the blunt thinkingAmerican's eyesand however strangely
surviving in the midst of all his afflictionsthe toilette of Don Benitomight notin fashion at leasthave gone beyond the
style of the day among South Americans of his class. Though on the presentvoyage sailing from Buenos Ayreshe had
avowed himself a native and resident of Chiliwhose inhabitants had not sogenerally adopted the plain coat and once
plebeian pantaloons; butwith a becoming modificationadhered to theirprovincial costumepicturesque as any in the
world. Stillrelatively to the pale history of the voyageand his own palefacethere seemed something so incongruous
in the Spaniard's apparelas almost to suggest the image of an invalidcourtier tottering about London streets in the time
of the plague.
The portion of the narrative whichperhapsmost excited interestas wellas some surpriseconsidering the
latitudes in questionwas the long calms spoken ofand more particularlythe ship's so long drifting about. Without
communicating the opinionof coursethe American could not but impute atleast part of the detentions both to clumsy
seamanship and faulty navigation. Eyeing Don Benito's smallyellow handsheeasily inferred that the young captain
had not got into command at the hawse-hole but the cabin-windowand if sowhy wonder at incompetencein youth
sicknessand aristocracy united? Such was his democratic conclusion.
But drowning criticism in compassionafter a fresh repetition of hissympathiesCaptain Delano having heard
out his storynot only engagedas in the first placeto see Don Benito andhis people supplied in their immediate bodily.HermanMelville Benito Cereno
needsbutalsonow further promised to assist him in procuring a largepermanent supply of wateras well as some sails
and rigging; andthough it would involve no small embarrassment to himselfyet he would spare three of his best
seamen for temporary deck officers; so that without delay the ship mightproceed to Concepcionthere fully to refit for
Limaher destined port.
Such generosity was not without its effecteven upon the invalid. His facelighted up; eager and hectiche met
the honest glance of his visitor. With gratitude he seemed overcome.
"This excitement is bad for master" whispered the servanttakinghis armand with soothing words gently
drawing him aside.
When Don Benito returnedthe American was pained to observe that hishopefulnesslike the sudden kindling in
his cheekwas but febrile and transient.
Ere longwith a joyless mienlooking up toward the poopthe host invitedhis guest to accompany him therefor
the benefit of what little breath of wind might be stirring.
As during the telling of the storyCaptain Delano had once or twice startedat the occasional cymballing of the
hatchet-polisherswondering why such an interruption should be allowedespecially in that part of the shipand in the
ears of an invalid; andmoreoveras the hatchets had anything but anattractive lookand the handlers of them still less
soit wasthereforeto tell the truthnot without some lurkingreluctanceor even shrinkingit may bethat Captain
Delanowith apparent complaisanceacquiesced in his host's invitation. Themore sosince with an untimely caprice of
punctiliorendered distressing by his cadaverous aspectDon BenitowithCastilian bowssolemnly insisted upon his
guest's preceding him up the ladder leading to the elevation; whereone oneach side of the last stepsat four armorial
supporters and sentriestwo of the ominous file. Gingerly enough steppedgood Captain Delano between themand in
the instant of leaving them behindlike one running the gauntlethe felt anapprehensive twitch in the calves of his legs.
But whenfacing abouthe saw the whole filelike so many organ-grindersstill stupidly intent on their work
unmindful of everything besidehe could not but smile at his late fidgetingpanic.
Presentlywhile standing with Don Benitolooking forward upon the decksbelowhe was struck by one of those
instances of insubordination previously alluded to. Three black boyswithtwo Spanish boyswere sitting together on the
hatchesscraping a rude wooden platterin which some scanty mess hadrecently been cooked. Suddenlyone of the
black boysenraged at a word dropped by one of his white companionsseizeda knifeand though called to forbear by
one of the oakum-pickersstruck the lad over the headinflicting a gashfrom which blood flowed.
In amazementCaptain Delano inquired what this meant. To which the paleBenito dully mutteredthat it was
merely the sport of the lad.
"Pretty serious sporttruly" rejoined Captain Delano. "Hadsuch a thing happened on board the Bachelor's
Delightinstant punishment would have followed."
At these words the Spaniard turned upon the American one of his suddenstaringhalf-lunatic looks; then
relapsing into his torporanswered"DoubtlessdoubtlessSenor."
Is itthought Captain Delanothat this helpless man is one of those papercaptains I've knownwho by policy
wink at what by power they cannot put down? I know no sadder sight than acommander who has little of command but
"I should thinkDon Benito" he now saidglancing toward theoakum-picker who had sought to interfere with
the boys"that you would find it advantageous to keep all your blacksemployedespecially the younger onesno matter
at what useless taskand no matter what happens to the ship. Whyeven withmy little bandI find such a course
indispensable. I once kept a crew on my quarterdeck thrumming mats for mycabinwhenfor three daysI had given up
my ship- matsmenand all- for a speedy lossowing to the violence of agale in which we could do nothing but
helplessly drive before it."
"Doubtlessdoubtless" muttered Don Benito.
"But" continued Captain Delanoagain glancing upon theoakum-pickers and then at the hatchet-polishersnear
by"I see you keep some at least of your host employed."
"Yes" was again the vacant response.
"Those old men thereshaking their pows from their pulpits"continued Captain Delanopointing to the oakum-pickers
"seem to act the part of old dominies to the restlittle heeded astheir admonitions are at times. Is this voluntary
on their partDon Benitoor have you appointed them shepherds to your flockof black sheep?"
"What posts they fillI appointed them" rejoined the Spaniard inan acrid toneas if resenting some supposed
"And these othersthese Ashantee conjurors here" continuedCaptain Delanorather uneasily eyeing the
brandished steel of the hatchet-polisherswhere in spots it had been broughtto a shine"this seems a curious business
they are atDon Benito?"
"In the gales we met" answered the Spaniard"what of ourgeneral cargo was not thrown overboard was much
damaged by the brine. Since coming into calm weatherI have had severalcases of knives and hatchets daily brought up
for overhauling and cleaning."
"A prudent ideaDon Benito. You are part owner of ship and cargoIpresume; but not of the slavesperhaps?".HermanMelville Benito Cereno
"I am owner of all you see" impatiently returned Don Benito"except the main company of blackswho
belonged to my late friendAlexandro Aranda."
As he mentioned this namehis air was heart-brokenhis knees shook; hisservant supported him.
Thinking he divined the cause of such unusual emotionto confirm hissurmiseCaptain Delanoafter a pause
said"And may I askDon Benitowhether- since awhile ago you spoke ofsome cabin passengers- the friendwhose
loss so afflicts youat the outset of the voyage accompanied hisblacks?"
"But died of the fever?"
"Died of the fever.- Ohcould I but-"
Again quiveringthe Spaniard paused.
"Pardon me" said Captain Delano slowly"but I think thatbya sympathetic experienceI conjectureDon
Benitowhat it is that gives the keener edge to your grief. It was once myhard fortune to lose at sea a dear friendmy
own brotherthen supercargo. Assured of the welfare of his spirititsdeparture I could have borne like a man; but that
honest eyethat honest hand- both of which had so often met mine- and thatwarm heart; allall- like scraps to the dogs-to
throw all to the sharks! It was then I vowed never to have for fellow-voyagera man I lovedunlessunbeknown to
himI had provided every requisitein case of a fatalityfor embalming hismortal part for interment on shore. Were
your friend's remains now on board this shipDon Benitonot thus strangelywould the mention of his name affect you."
"On board this ship?" echoed the Spaniard. Thenwith horrifiedgesturesas directed against some spectrehe
unconsciously fell into the ready arms of his attendantwhowith a silentappeal toward Captain Delanoseemed
beseeching him not again to broach a theme so unspeakably distressing to hismaster.
This poor fellow nowthought the pained Americanis the victim of that sadsuperstition which associates
goblins with the deserted body of manas ghosts with an abandoned house. Howunlike are we made! What to mein
like casewould have been a solemn satisfactionthe bare suggestioneventerrifies the Spaniard into this trance. Poor
Alexandro Aranda! what would you say could you see your friend- whoonformer voyageswhen you for months were
left behindhasI dare sayoften longedand longedfor one peep at you-now transported with terror at the least
thought of having you anyway nigh him.
At this momentwith a dreary graveyard tollbetokening a flawthe ship'sforecastle bellsmote by one of the
grizzled oakum-pickersproclaimed ten o'clock through the leaden calm; whenCaptain Delano's attention was caught by
the moving figure of a gigantic blackemerging from the general crowd belowand slowly advancing toward the
elevated poop. An iron collar was about his neckfrom which depended achainthrice wound round his body; the
terminating links padlocked together at a broad band of ironhis girdle.
"How like a mute Atufal moves" murmured the servant.
The black mounted the steps of the poopandlike a brave prisonerbroughtup to receive sentencestood in
unquailing muteness before Don Benitonow recovered from his attack.
At the first glimpse of his approachDon Benito had starteda resentfulshadow swept over his face; andas with
the sudden memory of bootless ragehis white lips glued together.
This is some mulish mutineerthought Captain Delanosurveyingnot withouta mixture of admirationthe
colossal form of the Negro.
"Seehe waits your questionmaster" said the servant.
Thus remindedDon Benitonervously averting his glanceas if shunningbyanticipationsome rebellious
responsein a disconcerted voicethus spoke:
"Atufalwill you ask my pardon now?"
The black was silent.
"Againmaster" murmured the servantwith bitter upbraidingeyeing his countryman. "Againmaster; he will
bend to master yet."
"Answer" said Don Benitostill averting his glance"say butthe one word pardonand your chains shall be off."
Upon thisthe blackslowly raising both armslet them lifelessly fallhislinks clankinghis head bowed; as
much as to say"NoI am content."
"Go" said Don Benitowith inkept and unknown emotion.
Deliberately as he had comethe black obeyed.
"Excuse meDon Benito" said Captain Delano"but this scenesurprises me; what means itpray?"
"It means that that Negro aloneof all the bandhas given me peculiarcause of offence. I have put him in chains;
Here he paused; his hand to his headas if there were a swimming thereor asudden bewilderment of memory
had come over him; but meeting his servant's kindly glance seemed reassuredand proceeded:
"I could not scourge such a form. But I told him he must ask my pardon.As yet he has not. At my command
every two hours he stands before me."
"And how long has this been?"
"Some sixty days."
"And obedient in all else? And respectful?".HermanMelville Benito Cereno
"Upon my consciencethen" exclaimed Captain Delanoimpulsively"he has a royal spirit in himthis fellow."
"He may have some right to it" bitterly returned Don Benito;"he says he was king in his own land."
"Yes" said the servantentering a word"those slits inAtufal's ears once held wedges of gold; but poor Babo
herein his own landwas only a poor slave; a black man's slave was Babowho now is the white's."
Somewhat annoyed by these conversational familiaritiesCaptain Delano turnedcuriously upon the attendant
then glanced inquiringly at his master; butas if long wonted to theselittle informalitiesneither master nor man seemed
to understand him.
"Whatpraywas Atufal's offenceDon Benito?" asked CaptainDelano; "if it was not something very serious
take a fool's adviceandin view of his general docilityas well as insome natural respect for his spiritremit his
"Nonomaster never will do that" here murmured the servant tohimself"proud Atufal must first ask master's
pardon. The slave there carries the padlockbut master here carries thekey."
His attention thus directedCaptain Delano now noticed for the first timethatsuspended by a slender silken
cordfrom Don Benito's neck hung a key. At oncefrom the servant's mutteredsyllables divining the key's purposehe
smiled and said: "SoDon Benito- padlock and key- significant symbolstruly."
Biting his lipDon Benito faltered.
Though the remark of Captain Delanoa man of such native simplicity as to beincapable of satire or ironyhad
been dropped in playful allusion to the Spaniard's singularly evidencedlordship over the black; yet the hypochondriac
seemed in some way to have taken it as a malicious reflection upon hisconfessed inability thus far to break downat
leaston a verbal summonsthe entrenched will of the slave. Deploring thissupposed misconceptionyet despairing of
correcting itCaptain Delano shifted the subject; but finding his companionmore than ever withdrawnas if still slowly
digesting the lees of the presumed affront above-mentionedby-and-by CaptainDelano likewise became less talkative
oppressedagainst his own willby what seemed the secret vindictiveness ofthe morbidly sensitive Spaniard. But the
good sailor himselfof a quite contrary dispositionrefrainedon his partalike from the appearance as from the feeling
of resentmentand if silentwas only so from contagion.
Presently the Spaniardassisted by his servantsomewhat discourteouslycrossed over from Captain Delano; a
procedure whichsensibly enoughmight have been allowed to pass for idlecaprice of ill-humourhad not master and
manlingering round the corner of the elevated skylightbegun whisperingtogether in low voices. This was unpleasing.
And more: the moody air of the Spaniardwhich at times had not been withouta sort of valetudinarian statelinessnow
seemed anything but dignified; while the menial familiarity of the servantlost its original charm of simple-hearted
In his embarrassmentthe visitor turned his face to the other side of theship. By so doinghis glance accidentally
fell on a young Spanish sailora coil of rope in his handjust stepped fromthe deck to the first round of the mizzen-rigging.
Perhaps the man would not have been particularly noticedwere it not thatduring his ascent to one of the yards
hewith a sort of covert intentnesskept his eye fixed on Captain Delanofrom whompresentlyit passedas if by a
natural sequenceto the two whisperers.
His own attention thus redirected to that quarterCaptain Delano gave aslight start. From something in Don
Benito's manner just thenit seemed as if the visitor hadat least partlybeen the subject of the withdrawn consultation
going on- a conjecture as little agreeable to the guest as it was littleflattering to the host.
The singular alternations of courtesy and ill-breeding in the Spanish captainwere unaccountableexcept on one
of two suppositions- innocent lunacyor wicked imposture.
But the first ideathough it might naturally have occurred to an indifferentobserverandin some respectshad
not hitherto been wholly a stranger to Captain Delano's mindyetnow thatin an incipient wayhe began to regard the
stranger's conduct something in the light of an intentional affrontofcourse the idea of lunacy was virtually vacated. But
if not a lunaticwhat then? Under the circumstanceswould a gentlemannayany honest booract the part now acted by
his host? The man was an impostor. Some lowborn adventurermasquerading asan oceanic grandee; yet so ignorant of
the first requisites of mere gentlemanhood as to be betrayed into the presentremarkable indecorum. That strange
ceremoniousnesstooat other times evincedseemed not uncharacteristic ofone playing a part above his real level.
Benito Cereno- Don Benito Cereno- a sounding name. Onetooat that periodnot unknownin the surnameto
supercargoes and sea captains trading along the Spanish Mainas belonging toone of the most enterprising and
extensive mercantile families in all those provinces; several members of ithaving titles; a sort of Castilian Rothschild
with a noble brotheror cousinin every great trading town of SouthAmerica. The alleged Don Benito was in early
manhoodabout twenty-nine or thirty. To assume a sort of roving cadetship inthe maritime affairs of such a housewhat
more likely scheme for a young knave of talent and spirit? But the Spaniardwas a pale invalid. Never mind. For even to
the degree of simulating mortal diseasethe craft of some tricksters hadbeen known to attain. To think thatunder the
aspect of infantile weaknessthe most savage energies might be couched-those velvets of the Spaniard but the velvet
paw to his fangs.
From no train of thought did these fancies come; not from withinbut fromwithout; suddenlytooand in one
thronglike hoar frost; yet as soon to vanish as the mild sun of CaptainDelano's good-nature regained its meridian..HermanMelville Benito Cereno
Glancing over once again toward Don Benito- whose side-facerevealed abovethe skylightwas now turned
toward him- Captain Delano was struck by the profilewhose clearness of cutwas refined by the thinness incident to ill-health
as well as ennobled about the chin by the beard. Away with suspicion. He wasa true off-shoot of a true hidalgo
Relieved by these and other better thoughtsthe visitorlightly humming atunenow began indifferently pacing
the poopso as not to betray to Don Benito that be had at all mistrustedincivilitymuch less duplicity; for such mistrust
would yet be proved illusoryand by the event; thoughfor the presentthecircumstance which had provoked that
distrust remained unexplained. But when that little mystery should have beencleared upCaptain Delano thought he
might extremely regret itdid he allow Don Benito to become aware that hehad indulged in ungenerous surmises. In
shortto the Spaniard's black-letter textit was bestfor a whiletoleave open margin.
Presentlyhis pale face twitching and overcastthe Spaniardstillsupported by his attendantmoved over toward
his guestwhenwith even more than usual embarrassmentand a strange sortof intriguing intonation in his husky
whisperthe following conversation began:
"Senormay I ask how long you have lain at this isle?"
"Ohbut a day or twoDon Benito."
"And from what port are you last?"
"And thereSenoryou exchanged your seal-skins for teas and silksIthink you said?"
"And the balance you took in specieperhaps?"
Captain Delanofidgeting a littleanswered-
"Yes; some silver; not a very great dealthough."
"Ah- well. May I ask how many men have you on boardSenor?"
Captain Delano slightly startedbut answered:
"About five-and-twentyall told."
"And at presentSenorall on boardI suppose?"
"All on boardDon Benito" replied the captain now withsatisfaction.
"And will be to-nightSenor?"
At this last questionfollowing so many pertinacious onesfor the soul ofhim Captain Delano could not but look
very earnestly at the questionerwhoinstead of meeting the glancewithevery token of craven discomposure dropped
his eyes to the deck; presenting an unworthy contrast to his servantwhojust thenwas kneeling at his feet adjusting a
loose shoe-buckle; his disengaged face meantimewith humble curiosityturned openly up into his master's downcast
The Spaniardstill with a guilty shufflerepeated his question:
"And- and will be to-nightSenor?"
"Yesfor aught I know" returned Captain Delano- "butnay" rallying himself into fearless truth"some of them
talked of going off on another fishing party about midnight."
"Your ships generally go- go more or less armedI believeSenor?"
"Oha six-pounder or twoin case of emergency" was theintrepidly indifferent reply"with a small stock of
musketssealing-spearsand cutlassesyou know."
As he thus respondedCaptain Delano again glanced at Don Benitobut thelatter's eyes were averted; while
abruptly and awkwardly shifting the subjecthe made some peevish allusion tothe calmand thenwithout apology
once morewith his attendantwithdrew to the opposite bulwarkswhere thewhispering was resumed.
At this momentand ere Captain Delano could cast a cool thought upon whathad just passedthe young Spanish
sailor before mentioned was seen descending from the rigging. In act ofstooping over to spring inboard to the deckhis
voluminousunconfined frockor shirtof coarse woollenmuch spotted withtaropened out far down the chest
revealing a soiled under-garment of what seemed the finest linenedgedabout the neckwith a narrow blue ribbon
sadly faded and worn. At this moment the young sailor's eye was again fixedon the whisperersand Captain Delano
thought he observed a lurking significance in itas if silent signs of somefreemason sort had that instant been
This once more impelled his own glance in the direction of Don Benitoandas beforehe could not but infer
that himself formed the subject of the conference. He paused. The sound ofthe hatchet-polishing fell on his ears. He cast
another swift side-look at the two. They had the air of conspirators. Inconnection with the late questioningsand the
incident of the young sailorthese things now begat such return ofinvoluntary suspicionthat the singular guilelessness
of the American could not endure it. Plucking up a gay and humorousexpressionhe crossed over to the two rapidly
saying: "HaDon Benitoyour black here seems high in your trust; asort of privy-counsellorin fact."
Upon thisthe servant looked up with a good-natured grinbut the masterstarted as from a venomous bite. It was
a moment or two before the Spaniard sufficiently recovered himself to reply;which he didat lastwith cold constraint:
"YesSenorI have trust in Babo.".HermanMelville Benito Cereno
Here Babochanging his previous grin of mere animal humour into anintelligent smilenot ungratefully eyed his
Finding that the Spaniard now stood silent and reservedas if involuntarilyor purposely giving hint that his
guest's proximity was inconvenient just thenCaptain Delanounwilling toappear uncivil even to incivility itselfmade
some trivial remark and moved off; again and again turning over in his mindthe mysterious demeanour of Don Benito
He had descended from the poopandwrapped in thoughtwas passing near adark hatchwayleading down into
the steeragewhenperceiving motion therehe looked to see what moved. Thesame instant there was a sparkle in the
shadowy hatchwayand he saw one of the Spanish sailorsprowling therehurriedly placing his hand in the bosom of his
frockas if hiding something. Before the man could have been certain who itwas that was passinghe slunk below out of
sight. But enough was seen of him to make it sure that he was the same youngsailor before noticed in the rigging.
What was that which so sparkled? thought Captain Delano. It was no lamp- nomatch- no live coal. Could it have
been a jewel? But how come sailors with jewels?- or with silk-trimmedundershirts either? Has he been robbing the
trunks of the dead cabin passengers? But if sohe would hardly wear one ofthe stolen articles on board ship here. Ah
ah- if now that wasindeeda secret sign I saw passing between thissuspicious fellow and his captain awhile since; if I
could only be certain that in my uneasiness my senses did not deceive methen-
Herepassing from one suspicious thing to anotherhis mind revolved thepoint of the strange questions put to
him concerning his ship.
By a curious coincidenceas each point was recalledthe black wizards ofAshantee would strike up with their
hatchetsas in ominous comment on the white stranger's thoughts. Pressed bysuch enigmas and portentsit would have
been almost against naturehad noteven into the least distrustful heartsome ugly misgivings obtruded.
Observing the ship now helplessly fallen into a currentwith enchantedsailsdrifting with increased rapidity
seaward; and noting thatfrom a lately intercepted projection of the landthe sealer was hiddenthe stout mariner began
to quake at thoughts which he barely durst confess to himself. Above allhebegan to feel a ghostly dread of Don Benito.
And yet when he roused himselfdilated his chestfelt himself strong on hislegsand coolly considered it- what did all
these phantoms amount to?
Had the Spaniard any sinister schemeit must have reference not so much tohim (Captain Delano) as to his ship
(the Bachelor's Delight). Hence the present drifting away of the one shipfrom the otherinstead of favouring any such
possible schemewasfor the time at leastopposed to it. Clearly anysuspicioncombining such contradictionsmust
need be delusive. Besidewas it not absurd to think of a vessel in distress-a vessel by sickness almost dismanned of her
crew- a vessel whose inmates were parched for water- was it not a thousandtimes absurd that such a craft shouldat
presentbe of a piratical character; or her commandereither for himself orthose under himcherish any desire but for
speedy relief and refreshment? But thenmight not general distressandthirst in particularbe affected? And might not
that same undiminished Spanish crewalleged to have perished off to aremnantbe at that very moment lurking in the
hold? On heart-broken pretence of entreating a cup of cold waterfiends inhuman form had got into lonely dwellings
nor retired until a dark deed had been done. And among the Malay piratesitwas no unusual thing to lure ships after
them into their treacherous harboursor entice boarders from a declaredenemy at seaby the spectacle of thinly manned
or vacant decksbeneath which prowled a hundred spears with yellow armsready to upthrust them through the mats. Not
that Captain Delano had entirely credited such things. He had heard of them-and nowas storiesthey recurred. The
present destination of the ship was the anchorage. There she would be nearhis own vessel. Upon gaining that vicinity
might not the San Dominicklike a slumbering volcanosuddenly let looseenergies now hid?
He recalled the Spaniard's manner while telling his story. There was a gloomyhesitancy and subterfuge about it.
It was just the manner of one making up his tale for evil purposesas hegoes. But if that story was not truewhat was the
truth? That the ship had unlawfully come into the Spaniard's possession? Butin many of its detailsespecially in
reference to the more calamitous partssuch as the fatalities among theseamenthe consequent prolonged beating about
the past sufferings from obstinate calmsand still continued suffering fromthirst; in all these pointsas well as others
Don Benito's story had been corroborated not only by the wailing ejaculationsof the indiscriminate multitudewhite and
blackbut likewise- what seemed impossible to be counterfeit- by the veryexpression and play of every human feature
which Captain Delano saw. If Don Benito's story was throughout an inventionthen every soul on boarddown to the
youngest Negresswas his carefully drilled recruit in the plot: anincredible inference. And yetif there was ground for
mistrusting the Spanish captain's veracitythat inference was a legitimateone.
In shortscarce an uneasiness entered the honest sailor's mind butby asubsequent spontaneous act of good
senseit was ejected. At last he began to laugh at these forebodings; andlaugh at the strange ship forin its aspect
someway siding with themas it were; and laughtooat the odd-lookingblacksparticularly those old scissors-grinders
the Ashantees; and those bed-ridden old knitting-womenthe oakum-pickers;andin a human wayhe almost began to
laugh at the dark Spaniard himselfthe central hobgoblin of all.
For the restwhatever in a serious way seemed enigmaticalwas nowgood-naturedly explained away by the
thought thatfor the most partthe poor invalid scarcely knew what he wasabout; either sulking in black vapoursor
putting random questions without sense or object. Evidentlyfor the presentthe man was not fit to be entrusted with the
ship. On some benevolent plea withdrawing the command from himCaptainDelano would yet have to send her to.HermanMelville Benito Cereno
Concepcion in charge of his second matea worthy person and good navigator-a plan which would prove no wiser for
the San Dominick than for Don Benito; for- relieved from all anxietykeepingwholly to his cabin- the sick manunder
the good nursing of his servantwould probablyby the end of the passagebe in a measure restored to health and with
that he should also be restored to authority.
Such were the American's thoughts. They were tranquillizing. There was adifference between the idea of Don
Benito's darkly preordaining Captain Delano's fateand Captain Delano'slightly arranging Don Benito's. Neverthelessit
was not without something of relief that the good seaman presently perceivedhis whale-boat in the distance. Its absence
had been prolonged by unexpected detention at the sealer's sideas well asits returning trip lengthened by the continual
recession of the goal.
The advancing speck was observed by the blacks. Their shouts attracted theattention of Don Benitowhowith a
return of courtesyapproaching Captain Delanoexpressed satisfaction at thecoming of some suppliesslight and
temporary as they must necessarily prove.
Captain Delano responded; but while doing sohis attention was drawn tosomething passing on the deck below:
among the crowd climbing the landward bulwarksanxiously watching the comingboattwo blacksto all appearances
accidentally incommoded by one of the sailorsflew out against him withhorrible curseswhich the sailor someway
resentingthe two blacks dashed him to the deck and jumped upon himdespitethe earnest cries of the oakum-pickers.
"Don Benito" said Captain Delano quickly"do you see what isgoing on there? Look!"
Butseized by his coughthe Spaniard staggeredwith both hands to hisfaceon the point of falling. Captain
Delano would have supported himbut the servant was more alertwhowithone hand sustaining his masterwith the
other applied the cordial. Don Benitorestoredthe black withdrew hissupportslipping aside a littlebut dutifully
remaining within call of a whisper. Such discretion was here evinced as quitewiped awayin the visitor's eyesany
blemish of impropriety which might have attached to the attendantfrom theindecorous conferences before mentioned;
showingtoothat if the servant were to blameit might be more themaster's fault than his ownsince when left to
himself he could conduct thus well.
His glance thus called away from the spectacle of disorder to the morepleasing one before himCaptain Delano
could not avoid again congratulating Don Benito upon possessing such aservantwhothough perhaps a little too
forward now and thenmust upon the whole be invaluable to one in theinvalid's situation.
"Tell meDon Benito" he addedwith a smile- "I should liketo have your man here myself- what will you take
for him? Would fifty doubloons be any object?"
"Master wouldn't part with Babo for a thousand doubloons" murmuredthe blackoverhearing the offerand
taking it in earnestandwith the strange vanity of a faithful slaveappreciated by his masterscorning to hear so paltry a
valuation put upon him by a stranger. But Don Benitoapparently hardly yetcompletely restoredand again interrupted
by his coughmade but some broken reply.
Soon his physical distress became so greataffecting his mindtoolapparentlythatas if to screen the sad
spectaclethe servant gently conducted his master below.
Left to himselfthe Americanto while away the time till his boat shouldarrivewould have pleasantly accosted
some one of the few Spanish seamen he saw; but recalling something that DonBenito had said touching their ill
conducthe refrainedas a shipmaster indisposed to countenance cowardice orunfaithfulness in seamen.
Whilewith these thoughtsstanding with eye directed forward toward thathandful of sailors- suddenly he
thought that some of them returned the glance and with a sort of meaning. Herubbed his eyesand looked again; but
again seemed to see the same thing. Under a new formbut more obscure thanany previous onethe old suspicions
recurredbutin the absence of Don Benitowith less of panic than before.Despite the bad account given of the sailors
Captain Delano resolved forthwith to accost one of them. Descending the poophe made his way through the blackshis
movement drawing a queer cry from the oakum-pickersprompted by whom theNegroestwitching each other aside
divided before him; butas if curious to see what was the object of thisdeliberate visit to their Ghettoclosing in behind
in tolerable orderfollowed the white stranger up. His progress thusproclaimed as by mounted kings-at-armsand
escorted as by a Caffre guard of honourCaptain Delanoassuming agood-humouredoff-hand aircontinued to
advance; now and then saying a blithe word to the Negroesand his eyecuriously surveying the white faceshere and
there sparsely mixed in with the blackslike stray white pawns venturouslyinvolved in the ranks of the chessmen
While thinking which of them to select for his purposehe chanced to observea sailor seated on the deck
engaged in tarring the strap of a large blockwith a circle of blackssquatted round him inquisitively eyeing the process.
The mean employment of the man was in contrast with something superior in hisfigure. His handblack with
continually thrusting it into the tar-pot held for him by a Negroseemed notnaturally allied to his facea face which
would have been a very fine one but for its haggardness. Whether thishaggardness had aught to do with criminality
could not be determined; sinceas intense heat and coldthough unlikeproduce like sensationsso innocence and guilt
whenthrough casual association with mental painstamping any visibleimpressuse one seal- a hacked one.
Not again that this reflection occurred to Captain Delano at the timecharitable man as he was. Rather another
idea. Because observing so singular a haggardness to be combined with a darkeyeaverted as in trouble and shameand
thenhowever illogicallyuniting in his mind his own private suspicions ofthe crew with the confessed ill-opinion on the.HermanMelville Benito Cereno
part of their captainhe was insensibly operated upon by certain generalnotionswhichwhile disconnecting pain and
abashment from virtueas invariably link them with vice.
Ifindeedthere be any wickedness on board this shipthought CaptainDelanobe sure that man there has fouled
his hand in iteven as now he fouls it in the pitch. I don't like to accosthim. I will speak to this otherthis old Jack here
on the windlass.
He advanced to an old Barcelona tarin ragged red breeches and dirtynight-capcheeks trenched and bronzed
whiskers dense as thorn hedges. Seated between two sleepy-looking Africansthis marinerlike his younger shipmate
was employed upon some rigging- splicing a cable- the sleepy-looking blacksperforming the inferior function of
holding the outer parts of the ropes for him.
Upon Captain Delano's approachthe man at once hung his head below itsprevious level; the one necessary for
business. It appeared as if he desired to be thought absorbedwith more thancommon fidelityin his task. Being
addressedhe glanced upbut with what seemed a furtivediffident airwhich sat strangely enough on his weather-beaten
visagemuch as if a grizzly bearinstead of growling and bitingshouldsimper and cast sheep's eyes. He was
asked several questions concerning the voyage- questions purposely referringto several particulars in Don Benito's
narrative- not previously corroborated by those impulsive cries greeting thevisitor on first coming on board. The
questions were briefly answeredconfirming all that remained to be confirmedof the story. The Negroes about the
windlass joined in with the old sailorbutas they became talkativehe bydegrees became muteand at length quite
glumseemed morosely unwilling to answer more questionsand yetall thewhilethis ursine air was somehow mixed
with his sheepish one.
Despairing of getting into unembarrassed talk with such a centaurCaptainDelanoafter glancing round for a
more promising countenancebut seeing nonespoke pleasantly to the blacksto make way for him; and soamid various
grins and grimacesreturned to the poopfeeling a little strange at firsthe could hardly tell whybut upon the whole
with regained confidence in Benito Cereno.
How plainlythought hedid that old whiskerando yonder betray aconsciousness of ill-desert. No doubtwhen
he saw me cominghe dreaded lest Iapprised by his captain of the crew'sgeneral misbehaviourcame with sharp words
for himand so down with his head. And yet- and yetnow that I think of itthat very old fellowif I err notwas one of
those who seemed so earnestly eyeing me here awhile since. Ahthese currentsspin one's head round almost as much as
they do the ship. Hathere now's a pleasant sort of sunny sight; quitesociabletoo.
His attention had been drawn to a slumbering Negresspartly disclosedthrough the lace-work of some rigging
lyingwith youthful limbs carelessly disposedunder the lee of thebulwarkslike a doe in the shade of a woodland rock.
Sprawling at her lapped breasts was her wide-awake fawnstark nakeditsblack little body half lifted from the deck
crosswise with its dam's; its handslike two pawsclambering upon her; itsmouth and nose ineffectually rooting to get at
the mark; and meantime giving a vexatious half-gruntblending with thecomposed snore of the Negress.
The uncommon vigour of the child at length roused the mother. She started upat distance facing Captain
Delano. Butas if not at all concerned at the attitude in which she had beencaughtdelightedly she caught the child up
with maternal transportscovering it with kisses.
There's naked naturenow; pure tenderness and lovethought Captain Delanowell pleased.
This incident prompted him to remark the other Negresses more particularlythan before. He was gratified with
their manners; like most uncivilized womenthey seemed at once tender ofheart and tough of constitution; equally ready
to die for their infants or fight for them. Unsophisticated as leopardesses;loving as doves. Ah! thought Captain Delano
these perhaps are some of the very women whom Mungo Park saw in Africaandgave such a noble account of.
These natural sights somehow insensibly deepened his confidence and ease. Atlast he looked to see how his
boat was getting on; but it was still pretty remote. He turned to see if DonBenito had returned; but he had not.
To change the sceneas well as to please himself with a leisurelyobservation of the coming boatstepping over
into the mizzen-chains he clambered his way into the starboardquarter-galley; one of those abandoned Venetian-looking
water-balconies previously mentioned; retreats cut off from the deck. As hisfoot pressed the half-damphalf-dry sea-mosses
matting the placeand a chance phantom cat's-paw- an islet of breezeunheraldedunfollowed- as this ghostly
cat's-paw came fanning his cheekhis glance fell upon the row of smallround dead-lightsall closed like coppered eyes
of the coffinedand the state-cabin dooronce connecting with the galleryeven as the dead-lights had once looked out
upon itbut now caulked fast like a sarcophagus lidto a purple-blacktarred-over panelthresholdand post; and he
bethought him of the timewhen that state-cabin and this state-balcony hadheard the voices of the Spanish king's
officersand the forms of the Lima viceroy's daughters had perhaps leanedwhere he stood- as these and other images
flitted through his mindas the cat's-paw through the calmgradually hefelt rising a dreamy inquietudelike that of one
who alone on the prairie feels unrest from the repose of the noon.
He leaned against the carved balustradeagain looking off toward his boat;but found his eye falling upon the
ribboned grasstrailing along the ship's water-linestraight as a border ofgreen box; and parterres of sea-weedbroad
ovals and crescentsfloating nigh and farwith what seemed long formalalleys betweencrossing the terraces of swells
and sweeping round as if leading to the grottoes below. And overhanging allwas the balustrade by his armwhichpartly
stained with pitch and partly embossed with mossseemed the charred ruin ofsome summer-house in a grand garden
long running to waste..HermanMelville Benito Cereno
Trying to break one charmhe was but becharmed anew. Though upon the wideseahe seemed in some far
inland country; prisoner in some deserted chateauleft to stare at emptygroundsand peer out at vague roadswhere
never wagon or wayfarer passed.
But these enchantments were a little disenchanted as his eye fell on thecorroded main-chains. Of an ancient
stylemassy and rusty in linkshackle and boltthey seemed even more fitfor the ship's present business than the one for
which probably she had been built.
Presently he thought something moved nigh the chains. He rubbed his eyesandlooked hard. Groves of rigging
were about the chains; and therepeering from behind a great staylike anIndian from behind a hemlocka Spanish
sailora marlingspike in his handwas seenwho made what seemed animperfect gesture toward the balcony- but
immediatelyas if alarmed by some advancing step along the deck withinvanished into the recesses of the hempen
forestlike a poacher.
What meant this? Something the man had sought to communicateunbeknown toany oneeven to his captain?
Did the secret involve aught unfavourable to his captain? Were those previousmisgivings of Captain Delano's about to
be verified? Orin his haunted mood at the momenthad some randomunintentional motion of the manwhile busy
with the stayas if repairing itbeen mistaken for a significant beckoning?
Not unbewilderedagain he gazed off for his boat. But it was temporarilyhidden by a rocky spur of the isle. As
with some eagerness he bent forwardwatching for the first shooting view ofits beakthe balustrade gave way before
him like charcoal. Had he not clutched an outreaching rope he would havefallen into the sea. The crashthough feeble
and the fallthough hollowof the rotten fragmentsmust have beenoverheard. He glanced up. With sober curiosity
peering down upon him was one of the old oakum-pickersslipped from hisperch to an outside boom; while below the
old Negro- andinvisible to himreconnoitring from a port-hole like a foxfrom the mouth of its den- crouched the
Spanish sailor again. From something suddenly suggested by the man's airthemad idea now darted into Captain
Delano's mind: that Don Benito's plea of indispositionin withdrawing belowwas but a pretence: that he was engaged
there maturing some plotof which the sailorby some means gaining aninklinghad a mind to warn the stranger
against; incitedit may beby gratitude for a kind word on first boardingthe ship. Was it from foreseeing some possible
interference like thisthat Don Benito hadbeforehandgiven such a badcharacter of his sailorswhile praising the
Negroes; thoughindeedthe former seemed as docile as the latter thecontrary? The whitestooby naturewere the
shrewder race. A man with some evil designwould not he be likely to speakwell of that stupidity which was blind to
his depravityand malign that intelligence from which it might not behidden? Not unlikelyperhaps. But if the whites
had dark secrets concerning Don Benitocould then Don Benito be any way incomplicity with the blacks? But they
were too stupid. Besideswho ever heard of a white so far a renegade as toapostatize from his very species almostby
leaguing in against it with Negroes? These difficulties recalled former ones.Lost in their mazesCaptain Delanowho
had now regained the deckwas uneasily advancing along itwhen he observeda new face: an aged sailor seated cross-legged
near the main hatchway. His skin was shrunk up with wrinkles like a pelican'sempty pouch; his hair frosted; his
countenance grave and composed. His hands were full of ropeswhich he wasworking into a large knot. Some blacks
were about him obligingly dipping the strands for himhere and thereas theexigencies of the operation demanded.
Captain Delano crossed over to himand stood in silence surveying the knot;his mindby a not uncongenial
transitionpassing from its own entanglements to those of the hemp. Forintricacy such a knot he had never seen in an
American shipor indeed any other. The old man looked like an Egyptianpriestmaking Gordian knots for the temple of
Ammon. The knot seemed a combination of double-bowline-knottreble-crown-knotback-handed-well-knotknot-in-and-
At lastpuzzled to comprehend the meaning of such a knotCaptain Delanoaddressed the knotter:-
"What are you knotting theremy man?"
"The knot" was the brief replywithout looking up.
"So it seems; but what is it for?"
"For some one else to undo" muttered back the old manplying hisfingers harder than everthe knot being now
While Captain Delano stood watching himsuddenly the old man threw the knottoward himand said in broken
English- the first heard in the ship- something to this effect- "Undoitcut itquick." It was said lowlybut with such
condensation of rapiditythat the longslow words in Spanishwhich hadpreceded and followedalmost operated as
covers to the brief English between.
For a momentknot in handand knot in headCaptain Delano stood mute;whilewithout further heeding him
the old man was now intent upon other ropes. Presently there was a slightstir behind Captain Delano. Turninghe saw
the chained NegroAtufalstanding quietly there. The next moment the oldsailor rosemutteringandfollowed by his
subordinate Negroesremoved to the forward part of the shipwhere in thecrowd he disappeared.
An elderly Negroin a clout like an infant'sand with a pepper and saltheadand a kind of attorney airnow
approached Captain Delano. In tolerable Spanishand with a good-naturedknowing winkhe informed him that the old
knotter was simple-wittedbut harmless; often playing his old tricks. TheNegro concluded by begging the knotfor of
course the stranger would not care to be troubled with it. Unconsciouslyitwas handed to him. With a sort of congethe.HermanMelville Benito Cereno
Negro received itand turning his back ferreted into it like a detectiveCustom House officer after smuggled laces. Soon
with some African wordequivalent to pshawhe tossed the knot overboard.
All this is very queer nowthought Captain Delanowith a qualmish sort ofemotion; but as one feeling incipient
seasicknesshe stroveby ignoring the symptomsto get rid of the malady.Once more he looked off for his boat. To his
delightit was now again in viewleaving the rocky spur astern.
The sensation here experiencedafter at first relieving his uneasinesswithunforeseen efficiencysoon began to
remove it. The less distant sight of that well-known boat- showing itnot asbeforehalf blended with the hazebut with
outline definedso that its individualitylike a man'swas manifest; thatboatRover by namewhichthough now in
strange seashad often pressed the beach of Captain Delano's homeandbrought to its threshold for repairshad
familiarly lain thereas a Newfoundland dog; the sight of that householdboat evoked a thousand trustful associations
whichcontrasted with previous suspicionsfilled Him not only withlightsome confidencebut somehow with half
humorous self-reproaches at his former lack of it.
"WhatIAmasa Delano- Jack of the Beachas they called me when a lad-IAmasa; the same thatduck-satchel
in handused to paddle along the waterside to the schoolhouse made from theold hulk;- Ilittle Jack of the Beachthat
used to go berrying with cousin Nat and the rest; I to be murdered here atthe ends of the earthon board a haunted
pirate-ship by a horrible Spaniard?- Too nonsensical to think of! Who wouldmurder Amasa Delano? His conscience is
clean. There is some one above. FiefieJack of the Beach! you are a childindeed; a child of the second childhoodold
boy; you are beginning to dote and droolI'm afraid."
Light of heart and foothe stepped aftand there was met by Don Benito'sservantwhowith a pleasing
expressionresponsive to his own present feelingsinformed him that hismaster had recovered from the effects of his
coughing fitand had just ordered him to go present his compliments to hisgood guestDon Amasaand say that he
(Don Benito) would soon have the happiness to rejoin him.
There nowdo you mark that? again thought Captain Delanowalking the poop.What a donkey I was. This kind
gentleman who here sends me his kind complimentshebut ten minutes agodark-lantern in handwas dodging round
some old grind-stone in the holdsharpening a hatchet for meI thought.Wellwell; these long calms have a morbid
effect on the mindI've often heardthough I never believed it before. Ha!glancing toward the boat; there's Rover; a
good dog; a white bone in her mouth. A pretty big bone thoughseems to me.-What? Yesshe has fallen afoul of the
bubbling tide-rip there. It sets her the other waytoofor the time.Patience.
It was now about noonthoughfrom the greyness of everythingit seemed tobe getting toward dusk.
The calm was confirmed. In the far distanceaway from the influence of landthe leaden ocean seemed laid out
and leaded upits course finishedsoul gonedefunct. But the current fromlandwardwhere the ship wasincreased;
silently sweeping her further and further toward the tranced waters beyond.
Stillfrom his knowledge of those latitudescherishing hopes of a breezeand a fair and fresh oneat any
momentCaptain Delanodespite present prospectsbuoyantly counted uponbringing the San Dominick safely to anchor
ere night. The distance swept over was nothing; sincewith a good windtenminutes' sailing would retrace more than
sixty minutes' drifting. Meantimeone moment turning to mark Rover fightingthe tide-ripand the next to see Don
Benito approachinghe continued walking the poop.
Gradually he felt a vexation arising from the delay of his boat; this soonmerged into uneasiness; and at lasthis
eye falling continuallyas from a stage-box into the pitupon the strangecrowd before and below himand by-and-by
recognizing there the face- now composed to indifference- of the Spanishsailor who had seemed to beckon from the
main-chainssomething of his old trepidations returned.
Ahthought he- gravely enough- this is like the ague: because it went offit follows not that it won't come back.
Though ashamed of the relapsehe could not altogether subdue it; and soexerting his good nature to the utmost
insensibly he came to a compromise.
Yesthis is a strange craft; a strange historytooand strange folks onboard. But- nothing more.
By way of keeping his mind out of mischief till the boat should arrivehetried to occupy it with turning over and
overin a purely speculative sort of waysome lesser peculiarities of thecaptain and crew. Among othersfour curious
Firstthe affair of the Spanish lad assailed with a knife by the slave boy;an act winked at by Don Benito.
Secondthe tyranny in Don Benito's treatment of Atufalthe black; as if achild should lead a bull of the Nile by the ring
in his nose. Thirdthe trampling of the sailor by the two Negroes; a pieceof insolence passed over without so much as a
reprimand. Fourththe cringing submission to their master of all the ship'sunderlingsmostly blacks; as if by the least
inadvertence they feared to draw down his despotic displeasure.
Coupling these pointsthey seemed somewhat contradictory. But what thenthought Captain Delanoglancing
toward his now nearing boat- what then? Whythis Don Benito is a verycapricious commander. But he is not the first
of the sort I have seen; though it's true he rather exceeds any other. But asa nation- continued he in his reveries- these
Spaniards are all an odd set; the very word Spaniard has a curiousconspiratorGuy-Fawkish twang to it. And yetI dare
saySpaniards in the main are as good folks as any in DuxburyMassachusetts. Ahgood! At last Rover has come..HermanMelville Benito Cereno
Aswith its welcome freightthe boat touched the sidethe oakum-pickerswith venerable gesturessought to
restrain the blackswhoat the sight of three gurried water-casks in itsbottomand a pile of wilted pumpkins in its bow
hung over the bulwarks in disorderly raptures.
Don Benito with his servant now appeared; his comingperhapshastened byhearing the noise. Of him Captain
Delano sought permission to serve out the waterso that all might sharealikeand none injure themselves by unfair
excess. But sensibleandon Don Benito's accountkind as this offer wasit was received with what seemed impatience;
as if aware that he lacked energy as a commanderDon Benitowith the truejealousy of weaknessresented as an affront
any interference. Soat leastCaptain Delano inferred.
In another moment the casks were being hoisted inwhen some of the eagerNegroes accidentally jostled Captain
Delanowhere he stood by the gangway; so thatunmindful of Don Benitoyielding to the impulse of the momentwith
good-natured authority he bade the blacks stand back; to enforce his wordsmaking use of a half-mirthfulhalf-menacing
gesture. Instantly the blacks pausedjust where they wereeach Negro andNegress suspended in his or her posture
exactly as the word had found them- for a few seconds continuing so- whileas between the responsive posts of a
telegraphan unknown syllable ran from man to man among the perchedoakum-pickers. While Captain Delano's
attention was fixed by this scenesuddenly the hatchet-polishers half roseand a rapid cry came from Don Benito.
Thinking that at the signal of the Spaniard he was about to be massacredCaptain Delano would have sprung for
his boatbut pausedas the oakum-pickersdropping down into the crowd withearnest exclamationsforced every white
and every Negro backat the same momentwith gestures friendly andfamiliaralmost jocosebidding himin
substancenot be a fool. Simultaneously the hatchet-polishers resumed theirseatsquietly as so many tailorsand at
onceas if nothing had happenedthe work of hoisting in the casks wasresumedwhites and blacks singing at the tackle.
Captain Delano glanced toward Don Benito. As he saw his meagre form in theact of recovering itself from
reclining in the servant's armsinto which the agitated invalid had fallenhe could not but marvel at the panic by which
himself had been surprised on the darting supposition that such a commanderwho upon a legitimate occasionso trivial
tooas it now appearedcould lose all self-commandwaswith energeticiniquitygoing to bring about his murder.
The casks being on deckCaptain Delano was handed a number of jars and cupsby one of the steward's aides
whoin the name of Don Benitoentreated him to do as he had proposed: doleout the water. He compliedwith
republican impartiality as to this republican elementwhich always seeks onelevelserving the oldest white no better
than the youngest black; exceptingindeedpoor Don Benitowhose conditionif not rankdemanded an extra
allowance. To himin the first placeCaptain Delano presented a fairpitcher of the fluid; butthirsting as he was for
fresh waterDon Benito quaffed not a drop until after several grave bows andsalutes: a reciprocation of courtesies
which the sight-loving Africans hailed with clapping of hands.
Two of the less wilted pumpkins being reserved for the cabin tabletheresidue were minced up on the spot for
the general regalement. But the soft breadsugarand bottled ciderCaptainDelano would have given the Spaniards
aloneand in chief Don Benito; but the latter objected; whichdisinterestednesson his partnot a little pleased the
American; and so mouthfuls all around were given alike to whites and blacks;excepting one bottle of ciderwhich Babo
insisted upon setting aside for his master.
Here it may be observed that ason the first visit of the boatthe Americanhad not permitted his men to board
the shipneither did he now; being unwilling to add to the confusion of thedecks.
Not uninfluenced by the peculiar good humour at present prevailingand forthe time oblivious of any but
benevolent thoughtsCaptain Delanowho from recent indications counted upona breeze within an hour or two at
furthestdespatched the boat back to the sealer with orders for all thehands that could be spared immediately to set
about rafting casks to the watering-place and filling them. Likewise he badeword be carried to his chief officerthat if
against present expectation the ship was not brought to anchor by sunsetheneed be under no concernfor as there was
to be a full moon that nighthe (Captain Delano) would remain on board readyto play the pilotshould the wind come
soon or late.
As the two captains stood togetherobserving the departing boat- the servantas it happened having just spied a
spot on his master's velvet sleeveand silently engaged rubbing it out- theAmerican expressed his regrets that the San
Dominick had no boats; noneat leastbut the unseaworthy old hulk of thelong-boatwhichwarped as a camel's
skeleton in the desertand almost as bleachedlay pot-wise invertedamidshipsone side a little tippedfurnishing a
subterraneous sort of den for family groups of the blacksmostly women andsmall children; whosquatting on old mats
belowor perched above in the dark domeon the elevated seatsweredescriedsome distance withinlike a social circle
of batssheltering in some friendly cave; at intervalsebon flights ofnaked boys and girlsthree or four years old
darting in and out of the den's mouth.
"Had you three or four boats nowDon Benito" said Captain Delano"I think thatby tugging at the oarsyour
Negroes here might help along matters some.- Did you sail from port withoutboatsDon Benito?"
"They were stove in the galesSenor."
"That was bad. Many mentooyou lost then. Boats and men.- Those musthave been hard galesDon Benito."
"Past all speech" cringed the Spaniard.
"Tell meDon Benito" continued his companion with increasedinterest"tell mewere these gales immediately
off the pitch of Cape Horn?".HermanMelville Benito Cereno
"Cape Horn?- who spoke of Cape Horn?"
"Yourself didwhen giving me an account of your voyage" answeredCaptain Delano with almost equal
astonishment at this eating of his own wordseven as he ever seemed eatinghis own hearton the part of the Spaniard.
"You yourselfDon Benitospoke of Cape Horn" he emphaticallyrepeated.
The Spaniard turnedin a sort of stooping posturepausing an instantasone about to make a plunging exchange
of elementsas from air to water.
At this moment a messenger-boya whitehurried byin the regularperformance of his function carrying the last
expired half-hour forward to the forecastlefrom the cabin time-piecetohave it struck at the ship's large bell.
"Master" said the servantdiscontinuing his work on the coatsleeveand addressing the rapt Spaniard with a
sort of timid apprehensivenessas one charged with a dutythe discharge ofwhichit was foreseenwould prove irksome
to the very person who had imposed itand for whose benefit it was intended"master told me never mind where he was
or how engagedalways to remind himto a minutewhen shaving-time comes.Miguel has gone to strike the half-hour
after noon. It is nowmaster. Will master go into the cuddy?"
"Ah- yes" answered the Spaniardstartingsomewhat as from dreamsinto realities; then turning upon Captain
Delanohe said that ere long he would resume the conversation.
"Then if master means to talk more to Don Amasa" said the servant"why not let Don Amasa sit by master in
the cuddyand master can talkand Don Amasa can listenwhile Babo herelathers and strops."
"Yes" said Captain Delanonot unpleased with this sociable plan"yesDon Benitounless you had rather notI
will go with you."
"Be it soSenor."
As the three passed aftthe American could not but think it another strangeinstance of his host's capriciousness
this being shaved with such uncommon punctuality in the middle of the day.But he deemed it more than likely that the
servant's anxious fidelity had something to do with the matter; inasmuch asthe timely interruption served to rally his
master from the mood which had evidently been coming upon him.
The place called the cuddy was a light deck-cabin formed by the poopa sortof attic to the large cabin below.
Part of it had formerly been the quarters of the officers; but since theirdeath all the partitionings had been thrown down
and the whole interior converted into one spacious and airy marine hall; forabsence of fine furniture and picturesque
disarrayof odd appurtenancessomewhat answering to the wideclutteredhall of some eccentric bachelor squire in the
countrywho hangs his shooting-jacket and tobacco-pouch on deer antlersandkeeps his fishing-rodtongsand
walking-stick in the same corner.
The similitude was heightenedif not originally suggestedby glimpses ofthe surrounding sea; sincein one
aspectthe country and the ocean seem cousins-german.
The floor of the cuddy was matted. Overheadfour or five old muskets werestuck into horizontal holes along the
beams. On one side was a claw-footed old table lashed to the deck; a thumbedmissal on itand over it a smallmeagre
crucifix attached to the bulkhead. Under the table lay a dented cutlass ortwowith a hacked harpoonamong some
melancholy old rigginglike a heap of poor friar's girdles. There were alsotwo longsharp-ribbed settees of malacca
caneblack with ageand uncomfortable to look at as inquisitors' rackswith a largemisshapen arm-chairwhich
furnished with a rude barber's crutch at the backworking with a screwseemed some grotesque Middle Age engine of
torment. A flag locker was in one cornerexposing various coloured buntingsome rolled upothers half unrolledstill
others tumbled. Opposite was a cumbrous washstandof black mahoganyall ofone blockwith a pedestallike a font
and over it a railed shelfcontaining combsbrushesand other implementsof the toilet. A tom hammock of stained
grass swung near; the sheets tossedand the pillow wrinkled up like a browas if whoever slept here slept but illywith
alternate visitations of sad thoughts and bad dreams.
The further extremity of the cuddyoverhanging the ship's sternwas piercedwith three openingswindows or
port-holesaccording as men or cannon might peersocially or unsociallyout of them. At present neither men nor
cannon were seenthough huge ring-bolts and other rusty iron fixtures of thewood-work hinted of twenty-four-pounders.
Glancing toward the hammock as he enteredCaptain Delano said"Yousleep hereDon Benito?"
"YesSenorsince we got into mild weather."
"This seems a sort of dormitorysitting-roomsail-loftchapelarmouryand private closet togetherDon
Benito" added Captain Delanolooking around.
"YesSenor; events have not been favourable to much order in myarrangements."
Here the servantnapkin on armmade a motion as if waiting his master'sgood pleasure. Don Benito signified
his readinesswhenseating him in the malacca arm-chairand for theguest's convenience drawing opposite it one of the
setteesthe servant commenced operations by throwing back his master'scollar and loosening his cravat.
There is something in the Negro whichin a peculiar wayfits him foravocations about one's person. Most
Negroes are natural valets and hair-dressers; taking to the comb and brushcongenially as to the castanetsand
flourishing them apparently with almost equal satisfaction. There istooasmooth tact about them in this employment
with a marvellousnoiselessgliding brisknessnot ungraceful in its waysingularly pleasing to beholdand still more so
to be the manipulated subject of. And above all is the great gift of goodhumour. Not the mere grin or laugh is here.HermanMelville Benito Cereno
meant. Those were unsuitable. But a certain easy cheerfulnessharmonious inevery glance and gesture; as though God
had set the whole Negro to some pleasant tune.
When to all this is added the docility arising from the unaspiringcontentment of a limited mindand that
susceptibility of blind attachment sometimes inhering in indisputableinferiorsone readily perceives why those
hypochondriacsJohnson and Byron- it may be something like thehypochondriacBenito Cereno- took to their hearts
almost to the exclusion of the entire white racetheir serving mentheNegroesBarber and Fletcher. But if there be that
in the Negro which exempts him from the inflicted sourness of the morbid orcynical mindhowin his most
prepossessing aspectsmust he appear to a benevolent one? When at ease withrespect to exterior thingsCaptain
Delano's nature was not only benignbut familiarly and humorously so. Athomehe had often taken rare satisfaction in
sitting in his doorwatching some free man of colour at his work or play. Ifon a voyage he chanced to have a black
sailorinvariably he was on chattyand half-gamesome terms with him. Infactlike most men of a goodblithe heart
Captain Delano took to Negroesnot philanthropicallybut geniallyjust asother men to Newfoundland dogs.
Hitherto the circumstances in which he found the San Dominick had repressedthe tendency. But in the cuddy
relieved from his former uneasinessandfor various reasonsmore sociablyinclined than at any previous period of the
dayand seeing the coloured servantnapkin on armso debonair about hismasterin a business so familiar as that of
shavingtooall his old weakness for Negroes returned.
Among other thingshe was amused with an odd instance of the African love ofbright colours and fine showsin
the black's informally taking from the flag-locker a great piece of buntingof all huesand lavishly tucking it under his
master's chin for an apron.
The mode of shaving among the Spaniards is a little different from what it iswith other nations. They have a
basinspecially called a barber's basinwhich on one side is scooped outso as accurately to receive the chinagainst
which it is closely held in lathering; which is donenot with a brushbutwith soap dipped in the water of the basin and
rubbed on the face.
In the present instance salt-water was used for lack of better; and the partslathered were only the upper lipand
low down under the throatall the rest being cultivated beard.
These preliminaries being somewhat novel to Captain Delano he sat curiouslyeyeing themso that no
conversation took placenor for the present did Don Benito appear disposedto renew any.
Setting down his basinthe Negro searched among the razorsas for thesharpestand having found itgave it an
additional edge by expertly stropping it on the firmsmoothoily skin ofhis open palm; he then made a gesture as if to
beginbut midway stood suspended for an instantone hand elevating therazorthe other professionally dabbling among
the bubbling suds on the Spaniard's lank neck. Not unaffected by the closesight of the gleaming steelDon Benito
nervously shudderedhis usual ghastliness was heightened by the latherwhich latheragainwas intensified in its hue by
the sootiness of the Negro's body. Altogether the scene was somewhatpeculiarat least to Captain Delanonoras he
saw the two thus posturedcould he resist the vagarythat in the black hesaw a headsmanand in the whitea man at the
block. But this was one of those antic conceitsappearing and vanishing in abreathfrom whichperhapsthe best
regulated mind is not free.
Meantime the agitation of the Spaniard had a little loosened the bunting fromaround himso that one broad fold
swept curtain-like over the chair-arm to the floorrevealingamid aprofusion of armorial bars and ground-colours-black
blue and yellow- a closed castle in a blood-red field diagonal with a lionrampant in a white.
"The castle and the lion" exclaimed Captain Delano- "whyDonBenitothis is the flag of Spain you use here.
It's well it's only Iand not the Kingthat sees this" he added witha smile"but"- turning toward the black- "it's all one
I supposeso the colours be gay" which playful remark did not failsomewhat to tickle the Negro.
"Nowmaster" he saidreadjusting the flagand pressing the headgently further back into the crotch of the
chair; "now master" and the steel glanced nigh the throat.
Again Don Benito faintly shuddered.
"You must not shake somaster.- SeeDon Amasamaster always shakeswhen I shave him. And yet master
knows I never yet have drawn bloodthough it's trueif master will shakesoI may some of these times. Nowmaster"
he continued. "And nowDon Amasaplease go on with your talk about thegaleand all thatmaster can hearand
between times master can answer."
"Ah yesthese gales" said Captain Delano; "but the more Ithink of your voyageDon Benitothe more I
wondernot at the galesterrible as they must have beenbut at thedisastrous interval following them. For hereby your
accounthave you been these two months and more getting from Cape Horn toSt. Mariaa distance which I myselfwith
a good windhave sailed in a few days. Trueyou had calmsand long onesbut to be becalmed for two monthsthat is
at leastunusual. WhyDon Benitohad almost any other gentleman told mesuch a storyI should have been half
disposed to a little incredulity."
Here an involuntary expression came over the Spaniardsimilar to that justbefore on the deckand whether it
was the start he gaveor a sudden gawky roll of the hull in the calmor amomentary unsteadiness of the servant's hand;
however it wasjust then the razor drew bloodspots of which stained thecreamy lather under the throat; immediately
the black barber drew back his steeland remaining in his professionalattitudeback to Captain Delanoand face to Don.HermanMelville Benito Cereno
Benitoheld up the trickling razorsayingwith a sort of half humoroussorrow"Seemaster- you shook so- here's
Babo's first blood."
No sword drawn before James the First of Englandno assassination in thattimid King's presencecould have
produced a more terrified aspect than was now presented by Don Benito.
Poor fellowthought Captain Delanoso nervous he can't even bear the sightof barber's blood; and this unstrung
sick manis it credible that I should have imagined he meant to spill all mybloodwho can't endure the sight of one little
drop of his own? SurelyAmasa Delanoyou have been beside yourself thisday. Tell it not when you get homesappy
Amasa. Wellwellhe looks like a murdererdoesn't he? More like as ifhimself were to be done for. Wellwellthis
day's experience shall be a good lesson.
Meantimewhile these things were running through the honest seaman's mindthe servant had taken the napkin
from his armand to Don Benito had said: "But answer Don Amasapleasemasterwhile I wipe this ugly stuff off the
razorand strop it again."
As he said the wordshis face was turned half roundso as to be alikevisible to the Spaniard and the American
and seemed by its expression to hintthat he was desirousby getting hismaster to go on with the conversation
considerately to withdraw his attention from the recent annoying accident. Asif glad to snatch the offered reliefDon
Benito resumedrehearsing to Captain Delanothat not only were the calms ofunusual durationbut the ship had fallen
in with obstinate currents and other things he addedsome of which were butrepetitions of former statementsto explain
how it came to pass that the passage from Cape Horn to St. Maria had been soexceedingly longnow and then mingling
with his wordsincidental praisesless qualified than beforeto theblacksfor their general good conduct.
These particulars were not given consecutivelythe servant now and thenusing his razorand sobetween the
intervals of shavingthe story and panegyric went on with more than usualhuskiness.
To Captain Delano's imaginationnow again not wholly at restthere wassomething so hollow in the Spaniard's
mannerwith apparently some reciprocal hollowness in the servant's duskycomment of silencethat the idea flashed
across himthat possibly master and manfor some unknown purposewereacting outboth in word and deednayto
the very tremor of Don Benito's limbssome juggling play before him. Neitherdid the suspicion of collusion lack
apparent supportfrom the fact of those whispered conferences beforementioned. But thenwhat could be the object of
enacting this play of the barber before him? At lastregarding the notion asa whimsyinsensibly suggestedperhapsby
the theatrical aspect of Don Benito in his harlequin ensignCaptain Delanospeedily banished it.
The shaving overthe servant bestirred himself with a small bottle ofscented waterspouring a few drops on the
headand then diligently rubbing; the vehemence of the exercise causing themuscles of his face to twitch rather
His next operation was with combscissors and brush; going round and roundsmoothing a curl hereclipping an
unruly whisker-hair theregiving a graceful sweep to the temple-lockwithother impromptu touches evincing the hand
of a master; whilelike any resigned gentleman in barber's handsDon Benitobore allmuch less uneasilyat leastthan
he had done the razoring; indeedhe sat so pale and rigid nowthat theNegro seemed a Nubian sculptor finishing off a
All being over at lastthe standard of Spain removedtumbled upand tossedback into the flag-lockerthe
Negro's warm breath blowing away any stray hair which might have lodged downhis master's neck; collar and cravat
readjusted; a speck of lint whisked off the velvet lapel; all this beingdone; backing off a little spaceand pausing with an
expression of subdued self-complacencythe servant for a moment surveyed hismasterasin toilet at leastthe creature
of his own tasteful hands.
Captain Delano playfully complimented him upon his achievement; at the sametime congratulating Don Benito.
But neither sweet watersnor shampooingnor fidelitynor socialitydelighted the Spaniard. Seeing him
relapsing into forbidding gloomand still remaining seatedCaptain Delanothinking that his presence was undesired
just thenwithdrewon pretence of seeing whetheras he had prophesiedanysigns of a breeze were visible.
Walking forward to the mainmasthe stood awhile thinking over the sceneandnot without some undefined
misgivingswhen he heard a noise near the cuddyand turningsaw the Negrohis hand to his cheek. Advancing
Captain Delano perceived that the cheek was bleeding. He was about to ask thecausewhen the Negro's wailing
soliloquy enlightened him.
"Ahwhen will master get better from his sickness; only the sour heartthat sour sickness breeds made him serve
Babo so; cutting Babo with the razorbecauseonly by accidentBabo hadgiven master one little scratch; and for the
first time in so many a daytoo. Ahahah" holding his hand to hisface.
Is it possiblethought Captain Delano; was it to wreak in private hisSpanish spite against this poor friend of his
that Don Benitoby his sullen mannerimpelled me to withdraw? Ahthisslavery breeds ugly passions in man! Poor
He was about to speak in sympathy to the Negrobut with a timid reluctancehe now re-entered the cuddy.
Presently master and man came forth; Don Benito leaning on his servant as ifnothing had happened.
But a sort of love-quarrelafter allthought Captain Delano..HermanMelville Benito Cereno
He accosted Don Benitoand they slowly walked together. They had gone but afew paceswhen the steward-a
tallrajah-looking mulattoorientally set off with a pagoda turban formedby three or four Madras handkerchiefs wound
about his headtier on tier- approaching with a salaamannounced lunch inthe cabin.
On their way thitherthe two captains were preceded by the mulattowhoturning round as he advancedwith
continual smiles and bowsushered them ina display of elegance which quitecompleted the insignificance of the small
bare-headed Babowhoas if not unconscious of inferiorityeyed askance thegraceful steward. But in partCaptain
Delano imputed his jealous watchfulness to that peculiar feeling which thefull-blooded African entertains for the
adulterated one. As for the stewardhis mannerif not bespeaking muchdignity of self-respectyet evidenced his
extreme desire to please; which is doubly meritoriousas at once Christianand Chesterfieldian.
Captain Delano observed with interest that while the complexion of themulatto was hybridhis physiognomy
was European; classically so.
"Don Benito" whispered he"I am glad to see thisusher-of-the-golden-rod of yours; the sight refutes an ugly
remark once made to me by a Barbados planter that when a mulatto has aregular European facelook out for him; he is
a devil. But seeyour steward here has features more regular than KingGeorge's of England; and yet there he nodsand
bowsand smiles; a kingindeed- the king of kind hearts and polite fellows.What a pleasant voice he hastoo?"
"Buttell mehas he notso far as you have known himalways proved agoodworthy fellow?" said Captain
Delanopausingwhile with a final genuflexion the steward disappeared intothe cabin; "comefor the reason just
mentionedI am curious to know."
"Francesco is a good man" rather sluggishly responded Don Benitolike a phlegmatic appreciatorwho would
neither find fault nor flatter.
"AhI thought so. For it were strange indeedand not very creditableto us white-skinsif a little of our blood
mixed with the African'sshouldfar from improving the latter's qualityhave the sad effect of pouring vitriolic acid into
black broth; improving the hueperhapsbut not the wholesomeness."
"DoubtlessdoubtlessSenorbut"- glancing at Babo- "not tospeak of Negroesyour planter's remark I have
heard applied to the Spanish and Indian intermixtures in our provinces. But Iknow nothing about the matter" he
And here they entered the cabin.
The lunch was a frugal one. Some of Captain Delano's fresh fish and pumpkinsbiscuit and salt beefthe
reserved bottle of ciderand the San Dominick's last bottle of Canary.
As they enteredFrancescowith two or three coloured aideswas hoveringover the table giving the last
adjustments. Upon perceiving their master they withdrewFrancesco making asmiling congeand the Spaniardwithout
condescending to notice itfastidiously remarking to his companion that herelished not superfluous attendance.
Without companionshost and guest sat downlike a childless married coupleat opposite ends of the tableDon
Benito waving Captain Delano to his placeandweak as he wasinsistingupon that gentleman being seated before
The Negro placed a rug under Don Benito's feetand a cushion behind hisbackand then stood behindnot his
master's chairbut Captain Delano's. At firstthis a little surprised thelatter. But it was soon evident thatin taking his
positionthe black was still true to his master; since by facing him hecould the more readily anticipate his slightest
"This is an uncommonly intelligent fellow of yoursDon Benito"whispered Captain Delano across the table.
"You say trueSenor."
During the repastthe guest again reverted to parts of Don Benito's storybegging further particulars here and
there. He inquired how it was that the scurvy and fever should have committedsuch wholesale havoc upon the whites
while destroying less than half of the blacks. As if this question reproducedthe whole scene of plague before the
Spaniard's eyesmiserably reminding him of his solitude in a cabin wherebefore he had had so many friends and
officers round himhis hand shookhis face became huelessbroken wordsescaped; but directly the sane memory of the
past seemed replaced by insane terrors of the present. With starting eyes hestared before him at vacancy. For nothing
was to be seen but the hand of his servant pushing the Canary over towardshim. At length a few sips served partially to
restore him. He made random reference to the different constitutions ofracesenabling one to offer more resistance to
certain maladies than another. The thought was new to his companion.
Presently Captain Delanointending to say something to his host concerningthe pecuniary part of the business
he had undertaken for himespecially- since he was strictly accountable tohis owners- with reference to the new suit of
sailsand other things of that sort; and naturally preferring to conductsuch affairs in privatewas desirous that the
servant should withdraw; imagining that Don Benito for a few minutes coulddispense with his attendance. Hehowever
waited awhile; thinking thatas the conversation proceededDon Benitowithout being promptedwould perceive the
propriety of the step.
But it was otherwise. At last catching his host's eyeCaptain Delanowith aslight backward gesture of his
thumbwhispered"Don Benitopardon mebut there is an interferencewith the full expression of what I have to say to
you.".Herman MelvilleBenito Cereno
Upon this the Spaniard changed countenance; which was imputed to hisresenting the hintas in some way a
reflection upon his servant. After a moment's pausehe assured his guestthat the black's remaining with them could be
of no disservice; because since losing his officers he had made Babo (whoseoriginal officeit now appearedhad been
captain of the slaves) not only his constant attendant and companionbut inall things his confidant.
After thisnothing more could be said; thoughindeedCaptain Delano couldhardly avoid some little tinge of
irritation upon being left ungratified in so inconsiderable a wishby onetoofor whom he intended such solid services.
But it is only his querulousnessthought he; and so filling his glass heproceeded to business.
The price of the sails and other matters was fixed upon. But while this wasbeing donethe American observed
thatthough his original offer of assistance had been hailed with hecticanimationyet now when it was reduced to a
business transactionindifference and apathy were betrayed. Don Benitoinfactappeared to submit to hearing the
details more out of regard to common proprietythan from any impression thatweighty benefit to himself and his
voyage was involved.
Soonhis manner became still more reserved. The effort was vain to seek todraw him into social talk. Gnawed
by his splenetic moodhe sat twitching his beardwhile to little purposethe hand of his servantmute as that on the wall
slowly pushed over the Canary.
Lunch being overthey sat down on the cushioned transom; the servant placinga pillow behind his master. The
long continuance of the calm had now affected the atmosphere. Don Benitosighed heavilyas if for breath.
"Why not adjourn to the cuddy" said Captain Delano; "there ismore air there." But the host sat silent and
Meantime his servant knelt before himwith a large fan of feathers. AndFrancescocoming in on tiptoeshanded
the Negro a little cup of aromatic waterswith which at intervals he chafedhis master's browsmoothing the hair along
the temples as a nurse does a child's. He spoke no word. He only rested hiseye on his master'sas ifamid all Don
Benito's distressa little to refresh his spirit by the silent sight offidelity.
Presently the ship's bell sounded two o'clock; and through the cabin-windowsa slight rippling of the sea was
discerned; and from the desired direction.
"There" exclaimed Captain Delano"I told you soDon Benitolook!"
He had risen to his feetspeaking in a very animated tonewith a view themore to rouse his companion. But
though the crimson curtain of the stern-window near him that moment flutteredagainst his pale cheekDon Benito
seemed to have even less welcome for the breeze than the calm.
Poor fellowthought Captain Delanobitter experience has taught him thatone ripple does not make a windany
more than one swallow a summer. But he is mistaken for once. I will get hisship in for himand prove it.
Briefly alluding to his weak conditionhe urged his host to remain quietlywhere he wassince he (Captain
Delano) would with pleasure take upon himself the responsibility of makingthe best use of the wind.
Upon gaining the deckCaptain Delano started at the unexpected figure ofAtufalmonumentally fixed at the
thresholdlike one of those sculptured porters of black marble guarding theporches of Egyptian tombs.
But this time the start wasperhapspurely physical. Atufal's presencesingularly attesting docility even in
sullennesswas contrasted with that of the hatchet-polisherswho inpatience evinced their industry; while both
spectacles showedthat lax as Don Benito's general authority might bestillwhenever he chose to exert itno man so
savage or colossal but mustmore or lessbow.
Snatching a trumpet which hung from the bulwarkswith a free step CaptainDelano advanced to the forward
edge of the poopissuing his orders in his best Spanish. The few sailors andmany Negroesall equally pleased
obediently set about heading the ship toward the harbour.
While giving some directions about setting a lower stu'n'-sailsuddenlyCaptain Delano heard a voice faithfully
repeating his orders. Turninghe saw Babonow for the time actingunderthe pilothis original part of captain of the
slaves. This assistance proved valuable. Tattered sails and warped yards weresoon brought into some trim. And no
brace or halyard was pulled but to the blithe songs of the inspiritedNegroes.
Good fellowsthought Captain Delanoa little training would make finesailors of them. Why seethe very
women pull and singtoo. These must be some of those Ashantee Negresses thatmake such capital soldiersI've heard.
But who's at the helm? I must have a good hand there.
He went to see.
The San Dominick steered with a cumbrous tillerwith large horizontalpulleys attached. At each pulley-end
stood a subordinate blackand between themat the tiller-headtheresponsible posta Spanish seamanwhose
countenance evinced his due share in the general hopefulness and confidenceat the coming of the breeze.
He proved the same man who had behaved with so shamefaced an air on thewindlass.
"Ah- it is youmy man" exclaimed Captain Delano- "wellnomore sheep's-eyes now;- look straight forward
and keep the ship so. Good handI trust? And want to get into the harbourdon't you?"
"Si Senor" assented the man with an inward chucklegrasping thetiller-head firmly. Upon thisunperceived by
the Americanthe two blacks eyed the sailor askance.
Finding all right at the helmthe pilot went forward to the forecastletosee how matters stood there..HermanMelville Benito Cereno
The ship now had way enough to breast the current. With the approach ofeveningthe breeze would be sure to
Having done all that was needed for the presentCaptain Delanogiving hislast orders to the sailorsturned aft
to report affairs to Don Benito in the cabin; perhaps additionally incited torejoin him by the hope of snatching a
moment's private chat while his servant was engaged upon deck.
From opposite sidesthere werebeneath the pooptwo approaches to thecabin; one further forward than the
otherand consequently communicating with a longer passage. Marking theservant still aboveCaptain Delanotaking
the nighest entrance- the one last namedand at whose porch Atufal stillstood- hurried on his waytillarrived at the
cabin thresholdhe paused an instanta little to recover from hiseagerness. Thenwith the words of his intended
business upon his lipshe entered. As he advanced toward the Spaniardonthe transomhe heard another footstep
keeping time with his. From the opposite doora salver in handthe servantwas likewise advancing.
"Confound the faithful fellow" thought Captain Delano; "whata vexatious coincidence."
Possiblythe vexation might have been something differentwere it not forthe buoyant confidence inspired by
the breeze. But even as it washe felt a slight twingefrom a suddeninvoluntary association in his mind of Babo with
"Don Benito" said he"I give you joy; the breeze will holdand will increase. By the wayyour tall man and
time-pieceAtufalstands without. By your orderof course?"
Don Benito recoiledas if at some bland satirical touchdelivered with suchadroit garnish of apparent good-breeding
as to present no handle for retort.
He is like one flayed alivethought Captain Delano; where may one touch himwithout causing a shrink?
The servant moved before his masteradjusting a cushion; recalled tocivilitythe Spaniard stiffly replied: "You
are right. The slave appears where you saw himaccording to my command;which isthat if at the given hour I am
belowhe must take his stand and abide my coming."
"Ah nowpardon mebut that is treating the poor fellow like an ex-kingdenied. AhDon Benito" smiling"for
all the license you permit in some thingsI fear lestat bottomyou are abitter hard master."
Again Don Benito shrank; and this timeas the good sailor thoughtfrom agenuine twinge of his conscience.
Conversation now became constrained. In vain Captain Delano called attentionto the now perceptible motion of
the keel gently cleaving the sea; with lack-lustre eyeDon Benito returnedwords few and reserved.
By-and-bythe wind having steadily risenand still blowing right into theharbourbore the San Dominick
swiftly on. Rounding a point of landthe sealer at distance came into openview.
Meantime Captain Delano had again repaired to the deckremaining there sometime. Having at last altered the
ship's courseso as to give the reef a wide berthhe returned for a fewmoments below.
I will cheer up my poor friendthis timethought he.
"Better and betterDon Benito" he cried as he blithelyre-entered; "there will soon be an end to your caresat
least for awhile. For whenafter a longsad voyageyou knowthe anchordrops into the havenall its vast weight seems
lifted from the captain's heart. We are getting on famouslyDon Benito. Myship is in sight. Look through this side-light
here; there she is; all a-taunt-o! The Bachelor's Delightmy good friend.Ahhow this wind braces one up. Comeyou
must take a cup of coffee with me this evening. My old steward will give youas fine a cup as ever any sultan tasted.
What say youDon Benitowill you?"
At firstthe Spaniard glanced feverishly upcasting a longing look towardthe sealerwhile with mute concern
his servant gazed into his face. Suddenly the old ague of coldness returnedand dropping back to his cushions he was
"You do not answer. Comeall day you have been my host; would you havehospitality all on one side?"
"I cannot go" was the response.
"What? it will not fatigue you. The ships will lie together as near asthey canwithout swinging foul. It will be
little more than stepping from deck to deck; which is but as from room toroom. Comecomeyou must not refuse me."
"I cannot go" decisively and repulsively repeated Don Benito.
Renouncing all but the last appearance of courtesywith a sort of cadaveroussullennessand biting his thin nails
to the quickhe glancedalmost glaredat his guest; as if impatient that astranger's presence should interfere with the
full indulgence of his morbid hour. Meantime the sound of the parted waterscame more and more gurglingly and
merrily in at the windows; as reproaching him for his dark spleen; as tellinghim thatsulk as he mightand go mad with
itnature cared not a jot; sincewhose fault was itpray? But the foulmood was now at its depthas the fair wind at its
There was something in the man so far beyond any mere unsociality or sournesspreviously evincedthat even
the forbearing good-nature of his guest could no longer endure it. Wholly ata loss to account for such demeanourand
deeming sickness with eccentricityhowever extremeno adequate excusewellsatisfiedtoothat nothing in his own
conduct could justify itCaptain Delano's pride began to be roused. Himselfbecame reserved. But all seemed one to the
Spaniard. Quitting himthereforeCaptain Delano once more went to the deck.
The ship was now within less than two miles of the sealer. The whale-boat wasseen darting over the interval.
To be briefthe two vesselsthanks to the pilot's skillere long inneighbourly style lay anchored together..HermanMelville Benito Cereno
Before returning to his own vesselCaptain Delano had intended communicatingto Don Benito the practical
details of the proposed services to be rendered. Butas it wasunwillinganew to subject himself to rebuffshe resolved
now that he had seen the San Dominick safely mooredimmediately to quit herwithout further allusion to hospitality or
business. Indefinitely postponing his ulterior planshe would regulate hisfuture actions according to future
circumstances. His boat was ready to receive him; but his host still tarriedbelow. Wellthought Captain Delanoif he
has little breedingthe more need to show mine. He descended to the cabin tobid a ceremoniousandit may betacitly
rebukeful adieu. But to his great satisfactionDon Benitoas if he began tofeel the weight of that treatment with which
his slighted guest hadnot indecorouslyretaliated upon himnow supportedby his servantrose to his feetand grasping
Captain Delano's handstood tremulous; too much agitated to speak. But thegood augury hence drawn was suddenly
dashedby his resuming all his previous reservewith augmented gloomaswith half-averted eyeshe silently reseated
himself on his cushions. With a corresponding return of his own chilledfeelingsCaptain Delano bowed and withdrew.
He was hardly midway in the narrow corridordim as a tunnelleading fromthe cabin to the stairswhen a
soundas of the tolling for execution in some jail-yardfell on his ears.It was the echo of the ship's flawed bellstriking
the hourdrearily reverberated in this subterranean vault. Instantlyby afatality not to be withstoodhis mind
responsive to the portentswarmed with superstitious suspicions. He paused.In images far swifter than these sentences
the minutest details of all his former distrusts swept through him.
Hithertocredulous good-nature had been too ready to furnish excuses forreasonable fears. Why was the
Spaniardso superfluously punctilious at timesnow heedless of commonpropriety in not accompanying to the side his
departing guest? Did indisposition forbid? Indisposition had not forbiddenmore irksome exertion that day. His last
equivocal demeanour recurred. He had risen to his feetgrasped his guest'shandmotioned toward his hat; thenin an
instantall was eclipsed in sinister muteness and gloom. Did this imply onebriefrepentant relenting at the final
momentfrom some iniquitous plotfollowed by remorseless return to it? Hislast glance seemed to express a
calamitousyet acquiescent farewell to Captain Delano for ever. Why declinethe invitation to visit the sealer that
evening? Or was the Spaniard less hardened than the Jewwho refrained notfrom supping at the board of him whom the
same night he meant to betray? What imported all those day-long enigmas andcontradictionsexcept they were intended
to mystifypreliminary to some stealthy blow? Atufalthe pretended rebelbut punctual shadowthat moment lurked by
the threshold without. He seemed a sentryand more. Whoby his ownconfessionhad stationed him there? Was the
Negro now lying in wait?
The Spaniard behind- his creature before: to rush from darkness to light wasthe involuntary choice.
The next momentwith clenched jaw and handhe passed Atufaland stoodunarmed in the light. As he saw his
trim ship lying peacefully at her anchorand almost within ordinary call; ashe saw his household boatwith familiar
faces in itpatiently rising and falling on the short waves by the SanDominick's side; and thenglancing about the decks
where he stoodsaw the oakum-pickers still gravely plying their fingers; andheard the lowbuzzing whistle and
industrious hum of the hatchet-polishersstill bestirring themselves overtheir endless occupation; and more than allas
he saw the benign aspect of Naturetaking her innocent repose in theevening; the screened sun in the quiet camp of the
west shining out like the mild light from Abraham's tent; as his charmed eyeand ear took in all thesewith the chained
figure of the blackthe clenched jaw and hand relaxed. Once again he smiledat the phantoms which had mocked him
and felt something like a tinge of remorsethatby indulging them even fora momenthe shouldby implicationhave
betrayed an almost atheistic doubt of the ever-watchful Providence above.
There was a few minutes' delaywhilein obedience to his ordersthe boatwas being hooked along to the
gangway. During this intervala sort of saddened satisfaction stole overCaptain Delanoat thinking of the kindly offices
he had that day discharged for a stranger. Ahthought heafter good actionsone's conscience is never ungrateful
however much so the benefited party may be.
Presentlyhis footin the first act of descent into the boatpressed thefirst round of the side-ladderhis face
presented inward upon the deck. In the same momenthe heard his namecourteously sounded; andto his pleased
surprisesaw Don Benito advancing- an unwonted energy in his airas ifatthe last momentintent upon making
amends for his recent discourtesy. With instinctive good feelingCaptainDelanorevoking his footturned and
reciprocally advanced. As he did sothe Spaniard's nervous eagernessincreasedbut his vital energy failed; so thatthe
better to support himthe servantplacing his master's hand on his nakedshoulderand gently holding it thereformed
himself into a sort of crutch.
When the two captains metthe Spaniard again fervently took the hand of theAmericanat the same time casting
an earnest glance into his eyesbutas beforetoo much overcome to speak.
I have done him wrongself-reproachfully thought Captain Delano; hisapparent coldness has deceived me; in no
instance has he meant to offend.
Meantimeas if fearful that the continuance of the scene might too muchunstring his masterthe servant seemed
anxious to terminate it. And sostill presenting himself as a crutchandwalking between the two captainshe advanced
with them toward the gangway; while stillas if full of kindly contritionDon Benito would not let go the hand of
Captain Delanobut retained it in hisacross the black's body.
Soon they were standing by the sidelooking over into the boatwhose crewturned up their curious eyes.
Waiting a moment for the Spaniard to relinquish his holdthe now embarrassedCaptain Delano lifted his footto.HermanMelville Benito Cereno
overstep the threshold of the open gangway; but still Don Benito would notlet go his hand. And yetwith an agitated
tonehe said"I can go no further; here I must bid you adieu. Adieumy deardear Don Amasa. Go- go!" suddenly
tearing his hand loose"goand God guard you better than memy bestfriend."
Not unaffectedCaptain Delano would now have lingered; but catching themeekly admonitory eye of the
servantwith a hasty farewell he descended into his boatfollowed by thecontinual adieus of Don Benitostanding
rooted in the gangway.
Seating himself in the sternCaptain Delanomaking a last saluteorderedthe boat shoved off. The crew had
their oars on end. The bowsman pushed the boat a sufficient distance for theoars to be lengthwise dropped. The instant
that was doneDon Benito sprang over the bulwarksfalling at the feet ofCaptain Delano; at the same timecalling
towards his shipbut in tones so frenziedthat none in the boat couldunderstand him. Butas if not equally obtusethree
Spanish sailorsfrom three different and distant parts of the shipsplashedinto the seaswimming after their captainas
if intent upon his rescue.
The dismayed officer of the boat eagerly asked what this meant. To whichCaptain Delanoturning a disdainful
smile upon the unaccountable Benito Cerenoanswered thatfor his partheneither knew nor cared; but it seemed as if
the Spaniard had taken it into his head to produce the impression among hispeople that the boat wanted to kidnap him.
"Or else- give way for your lives" he wildly addedstarting at aclattering hubbub in the shipabove which rang the
tocsin of the hatchet-polishers; and seizing Don Benito by the throat headded"this plotting pirate means murder!"
Herein apparent verification of the wordsthe servanta dagger in hishandwas seen on the rail overheadpoisedin
the act of leapingas if with desperate fidelity to befriend his master tothe last; whileseemingly to aid the blackthe
three Spanish sailors were trying to clamber into the hampered bow. Meantimethe whole host of Negroesas if
inflamed at the sight of their jeopardized captainimpended in one sootyavalanche over the bulwarks.
All thiswith what precededand what followedoccurred with suchinvolutions of rapiditythat pastpresent
and future seemed one.
Seeing the Negro comingCaptain Delano had flung the Spaniard asidealmostin the very act of clutching him
andby the unconscious recoilshifting his placewith arms thrown upsopromptly grappled the servant in his descent
that with dagger presented at Captain Delano's heartthe black seemed ofpurpose to have leaped there as to his mark.
But the weapon was wrenched awayand the assailant dashed down into thebottom of the boatwhich nowwith
disentangled oarsbegan to speed through the sea.
At this juncturethe left hand of Captain Delanoon one sideagainclutched the half-reclined Don Benito
heedless that he was in a speechless faintwhile his right footon theother sideground the prostrate Negro; and his
right arm pressed for added speed on the after oarhis eye bent forwardencouraging his men to their utmost.
But herethe officer of the boatwho had at last succeeded in beating offthe towing Spanish sailorsand was
nowwith face turned aftassisting the bowsman at his oarsuddenly calledto Captain Delanoto see what the black was
about; while a Portuguese oarsman shouted to him to give heed to what theSpaniard was saying.
Glancing down at his feetCaptain Delano saw the freed hand of the servantaiming with a second dagger- a
small onebefore concealed in his wool- with this he was snakishly writhingup from the boat's bottomat the heart of
his masterhis countenance lividly vindictiveexpressing the centredpurpose of his soul; while the Spaniardhalf-choked
was vainly shrinking awaywith husky wordsincoherent to all but thePortuguese.
That momentacross the long benighted mind of Captain Delanoa flash ofrevelation sweptilluminating in
unanticipated clearness Benito Cereno's whole mysterious demeanourwithevery enigmatic event of the dayas well as
the entire past voyage of the San Dominick. He smote Babo's hand downbuthis own heart smote him harder. With
infinite pity he withdrew his hold from Don Benito. Not Captain DelanobutDon Benitothe blackin leaping into the
boathad intended to stab.
Both the black's hands were heldasglancing up toward the San DominickCaptain Delanonow with the scales
dropped from his eyessaw the Negroesnot in misrulenot in tumultnot asif frantically concerned for Don Benitobut
with mask tom awayflourishing hatchets and knivesin ferocious piraticalrevolt. Like delirious black dervishesthe six
Ashantees danced on the poop. Prevented by their foes from springing into thewaterthe Spanish boys were hurrying up
to the topmost sparswhile such of the few Spanish sailorsnot already inthe sealess alertwere descriedhelplessly
mixed inon deckwith the blacks.
Meantime Captain Delano hailed his own vesselordering the ports upand theguns run out. But by this time the
cable of the San Dominick had been cut; and the fag-endin lashing outwhipped away the canvas shroud about the
beaksuddenly revealingas the bleached hull swung round toward the openoceandeath for the figureheadin a human
skeleton; chalky comment on the chalked words below"Follow yourleader."
At the sightDon Benitocovering his facewailed out: "'Tis heAranda! my murderedunburied friend!"
Upon reaching the sealercalling for ropesCaptain Delano bound the Negrowho made no resistanceand had
him hoisted to the deck. He would then have assisted the now almost helplessDon Benito up the side; but Don Benito
wan as he wasrefused to moveor be moveduntil the Negro should have beenfirst put below out of view. When
presently assured that it was donehe no more shrank from the ascent.
The boat was immediately despatched back to pick up the three swimmingsailors. Meantimethe guns were in
readinessthoughowing to the San Dominick having glided somewhat astern ofthe sealeronly the aftermost one could.HermanMelville Benito Cereno
be brought to bear. With thisthey fired six times; thinking to cripple thefugitive ship by bringing down her spars. But
only a few inconsiderable ropes were shot away. Soon the ship was beyond theguns' rangesteering broad out of the
bay; the blacks thickly clustering round the bowspritone moment withtaunting cries toward the whitesthe next with
up-thrown gestures hailing the now dusky expanse of ocean- cawing crowsescaped from the hand of the fowler.
The first impulse was to slip the cables and give chase. Butupon secondthoughtto pursue with whale-boat and
yawl seemed more promising.
Upon inquiring of Don Benito what firearms they had on board the SanDominickCaptain Delano was
answered that they had none that could be used; becausein the earlierstages of the mutinya cabin-passengersince
deadhad secretly put out of order the locks of what few muskets there were.But with all his remaining strengthDon
Benito entreated the American not to give chaseeither with ship or boat;for the Negroes had already proved themselves
such desperadoesthatin case of a present assaultnothing but a totalmassacre of the whites could be looked for. But
regarding this warning as coming from one whose spirit had been crushed bymiserythe American did not give up his
The boats were got ready and armed. Captain Delano ordered twenty-five meninto them. He was going himself
when Don Benito grasped his arm. "What! have you saved my lifeSenorand are you now going to throw away your
The officers alsofor reasons connected with their interests and those ofthe voyageand a duty owing to the
ownersstrongly objected against their commander's going. Weighing theirremonstrances a momentCaptain Delano
felt bound to remain; appointing his chief mate- an athletic and resolutemanwho had been a privateer's manandas his
enemies whispereda pirate- to head the party. The more to encourage thesailorsthey were toldthat the Spanish
captain considered his ship as good as lost; that she and her cargoincluding some gold and silverwere worth upwards
of ten thousand doubloons. Take herand no small part should be theirs. Thesailors replied with a shout.
The fugitives had now almost gained an offing. It was nearly night; but themoon was rising. After hard
prolonged pullingthe boats came up on the ship's quartersat a suitabledistance laying upon their oars to discharge
their muskets. Having no bullets to returnthe Negroes sent their yells.Butupon the second volleyIndian-likethey
hurtled their hatchets. One took off a sailor's fingers. Another struck thewhale-boat's bowcutting off the rope thereand
remaining stuck in the gunwalelike a woodman's axe. Snatching itquiveringfrom its lodgmentthe mate hurled it
back. The returned gauntlet now stuck in the ship's broken quarter-galleryand so remained.
The Negroes giving too hot a receptionthe whites kept a more respectfuldistance. Hovering now just out of
reach of the hurtling hatchetstheywith a view to the close encounterwhich must soon comesought to decoy the
blacks into entirely disarming themselves of their most murderous weapons ina hand-to-hand fightby foolishly flinging
themas missilesshort of the markinto the sea. But ere long perceivingthe stratagemthe Negroes desistedthough not
before many of them had to replace their lost hatchets with handspikes; anexchange whichas counted uponproved in
the end favourable to the assailants.
Meantimewith a strong windthe ship still clove the water; the boatsalternately falling behindand pulling up
to discharge fresh volleys.
The fire was mostly directed toward the sternsince therechieflytheNegroesat presentwere clustering. But
to kill or maim the Negroes was not the object. To take themwith the shipwas the object. To do itthe ship must be
boarded; which could not be done by boats while she was sailing so fast.
A thought now struck the mate. Observing the Spanish boys still alofthighas they could gethe called to them
to descend to the yardsand cut adrift the sails. It was done. About thistimeowing to causes hereafter to be showntwo
Spaniardsin the dress of sailors and conspicuously showing themselveswerekilled; not by volleysbut by deliberate
marksman's shots; whileas it afterwards appearedduring one of the generaldischargesAtufalthe blackand the
Spaniard at the helm likewise were killed. What nowwith the loss of thesailsand loss of leadersthe ship became
unmanageable to the Negroes.
With creaking masts she came heavily round to the wind; the prow slowlyswinging into view of the boatsits
skeleton gleaming in the horizontal moonlightand casting a gigantic ribbedshadow upon the water. One extended arm
of the ghost seemed beckoning the whites to avenge it.
"Follow your leader!" cried the mate; andone on each bowtheboats boarded. Sealing-spears and cutlasses
crossed hatchets and handspikes. Huddled upon the long-boat amidshipstheNegresses raised a wailing chantwhose
chorus was the clash of the steel.
For a timethe attack wavered; the Negroes wedging themselves to beat itback; the half-repelled sailorsas yet
unable to gain a footingfighting as troopers in the saddleone legsideways flung over the bulwarksand one without
plying their cutlasses like carters' whips. But in vain. They were almostoverbornewhenrallying themselves into a
squad as one manwith a huzzathey sprang inboard; whereentangledtheyinvoluntarily separated again. For a few
breaths' space there was a vaguemuffledinner sound as of submergedsword-fish rushing hither and thither through
shoals of black-fish. Soonin a reunited bandand joined by the Spanishseamenthe whites came to the surface
irresistibly driving the Negroes toward the stern. But a barricade of casksand sacksfrom side to sidehad been thrown
up by the mainmast. Here the Negroes faced aboutand though scorning peaceor truceyet fain would have had a
respite. Butwithout pauseoverleaping the barrierthe unflagging sailorsagain closed. Exhaustedthe blacks now.HermanMelville Benito Cereno
fought in despair. Their red tongues lolledwolf-likefrom their blackmouths. But the pale sailors' teeth were set; not a
word was spoken; andin five minutes morethe ship was won.
Nearly a score of the Negroes were killed. Exclusive of those by the ballsmany were mangled; their wounds-mostly
inflicted by the long-edged sealing-spears- resembling those shaven ones ofthe English at Preston Pansmade by
the poled scythes of the Highlanders. On the other sidenone were killedthough several were wounded; some severely
including the mate. The surviving Negroes were temporarily securedand theshiptowed back into the harbour at
midnightonce more lay anchored.
Omitting the incidents and arrangements ensuingsuffice it thatafter twodays spent in refittingthe two ships
sailed in company for Concepcion in Chiliand thence for Lima in Peru;wherebefore the vice-regal courtsthe whole
affairfrom the beginningunderwent investigation.
Thoughmidway on the passagethe ill-fated Spaniardrelaxed fromconstraintshowed some signs of regaining
health with free-will; yetagreeably to his own forebodingshortly beforearriving at Limahe relapsedfinally becoming
so reduced as to be carried ashore in arms. Hearing of his story and plightone of the many religious institutions of the
City of Kings opened an hospitable refuge to himwhere both physician andpriest were his nursesand a member of the
order volunteered to be his one special guardian and consolerby night andby day.
The following extractstranslated from one of the official Spanishdocumentswillit is hopedshed light on the
preceding narrativeas well asin the first placereveal the true port ofdeparture and true history of the San Dominick's
voyagedown to the time of her touching at the island of Santa Maria.
Butere the extracts comeit may be well to preface them with a remark.
The document selectedfrom among many othersfor partial translationcontains the deposition of Benito
Cereno; the first taken in the case. Some disclosures therein wereat thetimeheld dubious for both learned and natural
reasons. The tribunal inclined to the opinion that the deponentnotundisturbed in his mind by recent eventsraved of
some things which could never have happened. But subsequent depositions ofthe surviving sailorsbearing out the
revelations of their captain in several of the strangest particularsgavecredence to the rest. So that the tribunalin its
final decisionrested its capital sentences upon statements whichhad theylacked confirmationit would have deemed it
but duty to reject.
IDON JOSE DE ABOS AND PADILLAHis Majesty's Notary for the Royal Revenueand Register of this
Provinceand Notary Public of the Holy Crusade of this Bishopricetc.
Do certify and declareas much as is requisite in lawthatin the criminalcause commenced the twenty-fourth of
the month of Septemberin the year seventeen hundred and ninety-nineagainst the Senegal Negroes of the ship San
Dominickthe following declaration before me was made.
Declaration of the first witnessDON BENITO CERENO.
The same dayand monthand yearHis HonourDoctor Juan Martinez de DozasCouncillor of the Royal
Audience of this Kingdomand learned in the law of this Intendancyorderedthe captain of the ship San DominickDon
Benito Cerenoto appear; which he did in his litterattended by the monkInfelez; of whom he receivedbefore Don
Jose de Abos and PadillaNotary Public of the Holy Crusadethe oathwhichhe took by Godour Lordand a sign of
the Cross; under which he promised to tell the truth of whatever he shouldknow and should be asked;- and being
interrogated agreeably to the tenor of the act commencing the processhesaidthat on the twentieth of May lasthe set
sail with his ship from the port of Valparaisobound to that of Callao;loaded with the produce of the country and one
hundred and sixty blacksof both sexesmostly belonging to Don AlexandroArandagentlemanof the city of Mendoza;
that the crew of the ship consisted of thirty-six menbeside the persons whowent as passengers; that the Negroes were
in part as follows:
[Herein the originalfollows a list of some fifty namesdescriptionsandagescompiled from certain recovered
documents of Aranda'sand also from recollections of the deponentfromwhich portions only are extracted.]
-Onefrom about eighteen to nineteen yearsnamed Joseand this was the manthat waited upon his masterDon
Alexandroand who speaks well the Spanishhaving served him four or fiveyears;... a mulattonamed Francescothe
cabin stewardof a good person and voicehaving sung in the Valparaisochurchesnative of the province of Buenos
Ayresaged about thirty-five years.... A smart Negronamed Dagowho hadbeen for many years a gravedigger among
the Spaniardsaged forty-six years.... Four old Negroesborn in Africafrom sixty to seventybut soundcaulkers by
tradewhose names are as follows:- the first was named Muriand he waskilled (as was also his son named Diamelo);
the secondNacta; the thirdYolalikewise killed; the fourthGhofan; andsix full-grown Negroesaged from thirty to
forty-fiveall rawand born among the Ashantees- MartinquiYanLecbeMapendaYambaioAkim; four of whom
were killed;... a powerful Negro named Atufalwhobeing supposed to havebeen a chief in Africahis owners set great
store by him.... And a small Negro of Senegalbut some years among theSpaniardsaged about thirtywhich Negro's
name was Babo;... that he does not remember the names of the othersbut thatstill expecting the residue of Don.HermanMelville Benito Cereno
Alexandro's papers will be foundwill then take due account of them allandremit to the court;... and thirty-nine women
and children of all ages.
[After the cataloguethe deposition goes on as follows:]
...That all the Negroes slept upon deckas is customary in this navigationand none wore fettersbecause the
ownerhis friend Arandatold him that they were all tractable;... that onthe seventh day after leaving portat three
o'clock in the morningall the Spaniards being asleep except the twoofficers on the watchwho were the boatswain
Juan Roblesand the carpenterJuan Bautista Gayeteand the helmsman andhis boythe Negroes revolted suddenly
wounded dangerously the boatswain and the carpenterand successively killedeighteen men of those who were sleeping
upon decksome with handspikes and hatchetsand others by throwing themalive overboardafter tying them; that of
the Spaniards upon deckthey left about sevenas he thinksalive and tiedto manoeuvre the shipand three or four
more who hid themselves remained also alive. Although in the act of revoltthe Negroes made themselves masters of the
hatchwaysix or seven wounded went through it to the cockpitwithout anyhindrance on their part; that in the act of
revoltthe mate and another personwhose name he does not recollectattempted to come up through the hatchwaybut
having been wounded at the onsetthey were obliged to return to the cabin;that the deponent resolved at break of day to
come up the companionwaywhere the Negro Babo wasbeing the ringleaderandAtufalwho assisted himand having
spoken to themexhorted them to cease committing such atrocitiesaskingthemat the same timewhat they wanted and
intended to doofferinghimselfto obey their commands; thatnotwithstanding thisthey threwin his presencethree
menalive and tiedoverboard; that they told the deponent to come upandthat they would not kill him; which having
donethe Negro Babo asked him whether there were in those seas any Negrocountries where they might be carriedand
he answered themNothat the Negro Babo afterwards told him to carry themto Senegalor to the neighbouring islands
of St. Nicholas; and he answeredthat this was impossibleon account of thegreat distancethe necessity involved of
rounding Cape Hornthe bad condition of the vesselthe want of provisionssailsand water; but that the Negro Babo
replied to him he must carry them in any way; that they would do and conformthemselves to everything the deponent
should require as to eating and drinking; that after a long conferencebeingabsolutely compelled to please themfor
they threatened him to kill all the whites if they were notat all eventscarried to Senegalhe told them that what was
most wanting for the voyage was water; that they would go near the coast totake itand hence they would proceed on
their course; that the Negro Babo agreed to it; and the deponent steeredtoward the intermediate portshoping to meet
some Spanish or foreign vessel that would save them; that within ten oreleven days they saw the landand continued
their course by it in the vicinity of Nasca; that the deponent observed thatthe Negroes were now restless and mutinous
because he did not effect the taking in of waterthe Negro Babo havingrequiredwith threatsthat it should be done
without failthe following day; he told him he saw plainly that the coastwas steepand the rivers designated in the maps
were not be foundwith other reasons suitable to the circumstances; that thebest way would be to go to the island of
Santa Mariawhere they might water and victual easilyit being a desertislandas the foreigners did; that the deponent
did not go to Piscothat was nearnor make any other port of the coastbecause the Negro Babo had intimated to him
several timesthat he would kill all the whites the very moment he shouldperceive any citytownor settlement of any
kind on the shores to which they should be carried; that having determined togo to the island of Santa Mariaas the
deponent had plannedfor the purpose of trying whetherin the passage or inthe island itselfthey could find any vessel
that should favour themor whether he could escape from it in a boat to theneighbouring coast of Arruco; to adopt the
necessary means he immediately changed his coursesteering for the island;that the Negroes Babo and Atufal held daily
conferencesin which they discussed what was necessary for their design ofreturning to Senegalwhether they were to
kill all the Spaniardsand particularly the deponent; that eight days afterparting from the coast of Nascathe deponent
being on the watch a little after day-breakand soon after the Negroes hadtheir meetingthe Negro Babo came to the
place where the deponent wasand told him that he had determined to kill hismasterDon Alexandro Arandaboth
because he and his companions could not otherwise be sure of their libertyand thatto keep the seamen in subjection
he wanted to prepare a warning of what road they should be made to take didthey or any of them oppose him; and that
by means of the death of Don Alexandrothat warning would best be given;butthat what this last meantthe deponent
did not at the time comprehendnor could notfurther than that the death ofDon Alexandro was intended; and
moreoverthe Negro Babo proposed to the deponent to call the mate Ranedswho was sleeping in the cabinbefore the
thing was donefor fearas the deponent understood itthat the matewhowas a good navigatorshould be killed with
Don Alexandro and the rest; that the deponentwho was the friendfrom youthof Don Alexandroprayed and conjured
but all was useless; for the Negro Babo answered him that the thing could notbe preventedand that all the Spaniards
risked their death if they should attempt to frustrate his will in thismatteror any other; thatin this conflictthe
deponent called the mateRanedswho was forced to go apartand immediatelythe Negro Babo commanded the
Ashantee Martinqui and the Ashantee Lecbe to go and commit the murder; thatthose two went down with hatchets to
the berth of Don Alexandro; thatyet half alive and mangledthey draggedhim on deck; that they were going to throw
him overboard in that statebut the Negro Babo stopped thembidding themurder be completed on the deck before him
which was donewhenby his ordersthe body was carried belowforward;that nothing more was seen of it by the
deponent for three days;... that Don Alonzo Sidoniaan old manlongresident at Valparaisoand lately appointed to a
civil office in Peruwhither he had taken passagewas at the time sleepingin the berth opposite Don Alexandro's; that.HermanMelville Benito Cereno
awakening at his criessurprised by themand at the sight of the Negroeswith their bloody hatchets in their handshe
threw himself into the sea through a window which was near himand wasdrownedwithout it being in the power of the
deponent to assist or take him up;... thata short time after killingArandathey brought upon deck his german-cousinof
middle-ageDon Francisco Masaof Mendozaand the young Don JoaquinMarques de Aramboalazathen lately from
Spainwith his Spanish servant Ponceand the three young clerks of ArandaJose MozairiLorenzo Bargasand
Hermenegildo Gandixall of Cadiz; that Don Joaquin and Hermenegildo Gandixthe Negro Babo for purposes hereafter
to appearpreserved alive; but Don Francisco MasaJose Mozairiand LorenzoBargaswith Poncethe servantbeside
the boatswainJuan Roblesthe boatswain's matesManuel Viscaya andRoderigo Hurtaandfour of the sailorsthe
Negro Babo ordered to be thrown alive into the seaalthough they made noresistancenor begged for anything else but
mercy; that the boatswainJuan Robleswho knew how to swimkept thelongest above watermaking acts of contrition
andin the last words he utteredcharged this deponent to cause mass to besaid for his soul to our Lady of Succour;...
thatduring the three days which followedthe deponentuncertain what fatehad befallen the remains of Don
Alexandrofrequently asked the Negro Babo where they wereandif still onboardwhether they were to be preserved
for interment ashoreentreating him so to order it; that the Negro Baboanswered nothing till the fourth daywhen at
sunrisethe deponent coming on deckthe Negro Babo showed him a skeletonwhich had been substituted for the ship's
proper figure-headthe image of Christopher Colonthe discoverer of the NewWorld; that the Negro Babo asked him
whose skeleton that wasand whetherfrom its whitenesshe should not thinkit a white's; thatupon his covering his
facethe Negro Babocoming closesaid words to this effect: "Keepfaith with the blacks from here to Senegalor you
shall in spiritas now in bodyfollow your leader" pointing to theprow;... that the same morning the Negro Babo took
by succession each Spaniard forwardand asked him whose skeleton that wasand whetherfrom its whitenesshe
should not think it a white's; that each Spaniard covered his face; that thento each the Negro Babo repeated the words in
the first place said to the deponent;... that they (the Spaniards)beingthen assembled aftthe Negro Babo harangued
themsaying that he had now done all; that the deponent (as navigator forthe Negroes) might pursue his coursewarning
him and all of them that they shouldsoul and bodygo the way of DonAlexandro if he saw them (the Spaniards) speak
or plot anything against them (the Negroes)- a threat which was repeatedevery day; thatbefore the events last
mentionedthey had tied the cook to throw him overboardfor it is not knownwhat thing they heard him speakbut
finally the Negro Babo spared his lifeat the request of the deponent; thata few days afterthe deponentendeavouring
not to omit any means to preserve the lives of the remaining whitesspoke tothe Negroes peace and tranquillityand
agreed to draw up a papersigned by the deponent and the sailors who couldwriteas also by the Negro Babofor
himself and all the blacksin which the deponent obliged himself to carrythem to Senegaland they not to kill any more
and he formally to make over to them the shipwith the cargowith whichthey were for that time satisfied and quieted....
But the next daythe more surely to guard against the sailors' escapetheNegro Babo commanded all the boats to be
destroyed but the long-boatwhich was unseaworthyand anothera cutter ingood conditionwhichknowing it would
yet be wanted for lowering the water caskshe had it lowered down into thehold.
[Various particulars of the prolonged and perplexed navigation ensuing herefollowwith incidents of a
calamitous calmfrom which portion one passage is extractedto wit:]
-That on the fifth day of the calmall on board suffering much from theheatand want of waterand five having
died in fitsand madthe Negroes became irritableand for a chancegesturewhich they deemed suspicious- though it
was harmless- made by the mateRanedsto the deponentin the act ofhanding a quadrantthey killed him; but that for
this they afterwards were sorrythe mate being the only remaining navigatoron boardexcept the deponent.
-That omitting other eventswhich daily happenedand which can only serveuselessly to recall past misfortunes
and conflictsafter seventy-three days' navigationreckoned from the timethey sailed from Nascaduring which they
navigated under a scanty allowance of waterand were afflicted with thecalms before mentionedthey at last arrived at
the island of Santa Mariaon the seventeenth of the month of Augustatabout six o'clock in the afternoonat which hour
they cast anchor very near the American shipBachelor's Delightwhich layin the same baycommanded by the
generous Captain Amasa Delano; but at six o'clock in the morningthey hadalready descried the portand the Negroes
became uneasyas soon as at distance they saw the shipnot having expectedto see one there; that the Negro Babo
pacified themassuring them that no fear need be had; that straightway heordered the figure on the bow to be covered
with canvasas for repairsand had the decks a little set in order; thatfor a time the Negro Babo and the Negro Atufal
conferred; that the Negro Atufal was for sailing awaybut the Negro Babowould notandby himselfcast about what to
do; that at last he came to the deponentproposing to him to say and do allthat the deponent declares to have said and
done to the American captain;... that the Negro Babo warned him that if hevaried in the leastor uttered any wordor
gave any look that should give the least intimation of the past events orpresent statehe would instantly kill himwith all
his companionsshowing a daggerwhich he carried hidsaying somethingwhichas he understood itmeant that that
dagger would be alert as his eye; that the Negro Babo then announced the planto all his companionswhich pleased
them; that he thenthe better to disguise the truthdevised manyexpedientsin some of them uniting deceit and defence;
that of this sort was the device of the six Ashantees before namedwho werehis bravos; that them he stationed on the
break of the poopas if to clean certain hatchets (in caseswhich were partof the cargo)but in reality to use themand.HermanMelville Benito Cereno
distribute them at needand at a given word he told them thatamong otherdeviceswas the device of presenting Atufal
his right-hand manas chainedthough in a moment the chains could bedropped; that in every particular he informed the
deponent what part he was expected to enact in every deviceand what storyhe was to tell on every occasionalways
threatening him with instant death if he varied in the least; thatconsciousthat many of the Negroes would be turbulent
the Negro Babo appointed the four aged Negroeswho were caulkersto keepwhat domestic order they could on the
decks; that again and again he harangued the Spaniards and his companionsinforming them of his intentand of his
devicesand of the invented story that this deponent was to tellchargingthem lest any of them varied from that story;
that these arrangements were made and matured during the interval of two orthree hoursbetween their first sighting the
ship and the arrival on board of Captain Amasa Delano; that this happened atabout half-past seven in the morning
Captain Amasa Delano coming in his boatand all gladly receiving him; thatthe deponentas well as he could force
himselfacting then the part of principal ownerand a free captain of theshiptold Captain Amasa Delanowhen called
uponthat he came from Buenos Ayresbound to Limawith three hundredNegroes; that off Cape Hornand in a
subsequent fevermany Negroes had died; that alsoby similar casualtiesall the sea officers and the greatest part of the
crew had died.
[And so the deposition goes oncircumstantially recounting the fictitiousstory dictated to the deponent by Babo
and through the deponent imposed upon Captain Delano; and also recounting thefriendly offers of Captain Delanowith
other thingsbut all of which is here omitted. After the fictitiousstrangestoryetc.the deposition proceeds:]
-That the generous Captain Amasa Delano remained on board all the daytillhe left the ship anchored at six
o'clock in the eveningdeponent speaking to him always of his pretendedmisfortunesunder the fore-mentioned
principleswithout having had it in his power to tell a single wordor givehim the least hintthat he might know the
truth and state of things; because the Negro Baboperforming the office ofan officious servant with all the appearance
of submission of the humble slavedid not leave the deponent one moment;that this was in order to observe the
deponent's actions and wordsfor the Negro Babo understands well theSpanish; and besidesthere were thereabout
some others who were constantly on the watchand likewise understood theSpanish;... that upon one occasionwhile
deponent was standing on the deck conversing with Amasa Delanoby a secretsign the Negro Babo drew him (the
deponent) asidethe act appearing as if originating with the deponent; thatthenhe being drawn asidethe Negro Babo
proposed to him to gain from Amasa Delano full particulars about his shipand crewand arms; that the deponent asked
"For what?" that the Negro Babo answered he might conceive; thatgrieved at the prospect of what might overtake the
generous Captain Amasa Delanothe deponent at first refused to ask thedesired questionsand used every argument to
induce the Negro Babo to give up this new design; that the Negro Babo showedthe point of his dagger; thatafter the
information had been obtainedthe Negro Babo again drew him asidetellinghim that that very night he (the deponent)
would be captain of two ships instead of onefor thatgreat part of theAmerican's ship's crew being to be absent fishing
the six Ashanteeswithout any one elsewould easily take it; that at thistime he said other things to the same purpose;
that no entreaties availed; that before Amasa Delano's coming on boardnohint had been given touching the capture of
the American ship; that to prevent this project the deponent waspowerless;... -that in some things his memory is
confusedhe cannot distinctly recall every event;... -that as soon as theyhad cast anchor at six of the clock in the
eveningas has before been statedthe American captain took leave to returnto his vessel; that upon a sudden impulse
which the deponent believes to have come from God and his angelsheafterthe farewell had been saidfollowed the
generous Captain Amasa Delano as far as the gunwalewhere he stayedunderthe pretence of taking leaveuntil Amasa
Delano should have been seated in his boat; that on shoving offthe deponentsprang from the gunwaleinto the boat
and fell into ithe knows not howGod guarding him; that-[
Herein the originalfollows the account of what further happened at theescapeand how the "San Dominick"
was retakenand of the passage to the coast; including in the recital manyexpressions of "eternal gratitude" to the
"generous Captain Amasa Delano." The deposition then proceeds withrecapitulatory remarksand a partial
renumeration of the Negroesmaking record of their individual part in thepast eventswith a view to furnishing
according to command of the courtthe data whereon to found the criminalsentences to be pronounced. From this
portion is the following:]
-That he believes that all the Negroesthough not in the first place knowingto the design of revoltwhen it was
accomplishedapproved it.... That the NegroJoseeighteen years oldandin the personal service of Don Alexandro
was the one who communicated the information to the Negro Baboabout thestate of things in the cabinbefore the
revolt; that this is knownbecausein the preceding midnightlie used tocome from his berthwhich was under his
master'sin the cabinto the deck where the ringleader and his associateswereand had secret conversations with the
Negro Baboin which he was several times seen by the mate; thatone nightthe mate drove him away twice;... that this
same Negro Josewas the one whowithout being commanded to do so by theNegro Baboas Lecbe and Martinqui
werestabbed his masterDon Alexandroafter he had been draggedhalf-lifeless to the deck;... that the mulatto steward
Francescowas of the first band of revoltersthat he wasin all thingsthe creature and tool of the Negro Babo; thatto.HermanMelville Benito Cereno
make his courthejust before a repast in the cabinproposedto the NegroBabopoisoning a dish for the generous
Captain Amasa Delano; this is known and believedbecause the Negroes havesaid it; but that the Negro Babohaving
another designforbade Francesco;... that the Ashantee Lecbe was one of theworst of them; for thaton the day the ship
was retakenhe assisted in the defence of herwith a hatchet in each handwith one of which he woundedin the breast
the chief mate of Amasa Delanoin the first act of boarding; this all knew;thatin sight of the deponentLecbe struck
with a hatchetDon Francisco Masa whenby the Negro Babo's ordershe wascarrying him to throw him overboard
alive; beside participating in the murderbefore mentionedof Don AlexandroArandaand others of the cabin-passengers;
thatowing to the fury with which the Ashantees fought in the engagementwith the boatsbut this Lecbe and
Yan survived; that Yan was bad as Lecbe; that Yan was the man whoby Babo'scommandwillingly prepared the
skeleton of Don Alexandroin a way the Negroes afterwards told the deponentbut which heso long as reason is left
himcan never divulge; that Yan and Lecbe were the two whoin a calm bynightriveted the skeleton to the bow; this
also the Negroes told him; that the Negro Babo was he who traced theinscription below it; that the Negro Babo was the
plotter from first to last; he ordered every murderand was the helm andkeel of the revolt; that Atufal was his lieutenant
in all; but Atufalwith his own handcommitted no murder; nor did the NegroBabo;... that Atufal was shotbeing killed
in the fight with the boatsere boarding;... that the Negressesof agewere knowing to the revoltand testified
themselves satisfied at the death of their masterDon Alexandro; thathadthe Negroes not restrained themthey would
have tortured to deathinstead of simply killingthe Spaniards slain bycommand of the Negro Babo; that the Negresses
used their utmost influence to have the deponent made away with; thatin thevarious acts of murderthey sang songs
and danced- not gailybut solemnly; and before the engagement with theboatsas well as during the actionthey sang
melancholy songs to the Negroesand that this melancholy tone was moreinflaming than a different one would have
beenand was so intended; that all this is believedbecause the Negroeshave said it.
-That of the thirty-six men of the crew- exclusive of the passengers (all ofwhom are now dead)which the
deponent had knowledge of- six only remained alivewith four cabin-boys andship-boysnot included with the crew;....
-that the Negroes broke an arm of one of the cabin-boys and gave him strokeswith hatchets.
[Then follow various random disclosures referring to various periods of time.The following are extracted:]
-That during the presence of Captain Amasa Delano on boardsome attemptswere made by the sailorsand one
by Hermenegildo Gandixto convey hints to him of the true state of affairs;but that these attempts were ineffectual
owing to fear of incurring deathand furthermore owing to the devices whichoffered contradictions to the true state of
affairs; as well as owing to the generosity and piety of Amasa Delanoincapable of sounding such wickedness;... that
Luys Galgoa sailor about sixty years of ageand formerly of the king'snavywas one of those who sought to convey
tokens to Captain Amasa Delano; but his intentthough undiscoveredbeingsuspectedhe wason a pretencemade to
retire out of sightand at last into the holdand there was made away with.This the Negroes have since said;... that one
of the ship-boys feelingfrom Captain Amasa Delano's presencesome hopes ofreleaseand not having enough
prudencedropped some chance-word respecting his expectationswhich beingoverheard and understood by a slave-boy
with whom he was eating at the timethe latter struck him on the head with aknifeinflicting a bad woundbut of which
the boy is now healing; that likewisenot long before the ship was broughtto anchorone of the seamensteering at the
timeendangered himself by letting the blacks remark a certain unconscioushopeful expression in his countenance
arising from some cause similar to the above; but this sailorby his heedfulafter conductescaped;... that these
statements are made to show the court that from the beginning to the end ofthe revoltit was impossible for the
deponent and his men to act otherwise than they did;... -that the thirdclerkHermenegildo Gandixwho before had been
forced to live among the seamenwearing a seaman's habitand in allrespects appearing to be one for the time; he
Gandixwas killed by a musket-ball fired through a mistake from the Americanboats before boarding; having in his
fright ran up the mizzen-riggingcalling to the boats- "don'tboard" lest upon their boarding the Negroes should kill
him; that this inducing the Americans to believe he some way favoured thecause of the Negroesthey fired two balls at
himso that he fell wounded from the riggingand was drowned in the sea;...-that the young Don JoaquinMarques de
Aramboalazalike Hermenegildo Gandixthe third clerkwas degraded to theoffice and appearance of a common
seaman; that upon one occasionwhen Don Joaquin shrankthe Negro Babocommanded the Ashantee Lecbe to take tar
and heat itand pour it upon Don Joaquin's hands;... -that Don Joaquin waskilled owing to another mistake of the
Americansbut one impossible to be avoidedas upon the approach of theboatsDon Joaquinwith a hatchet tied edge
out and upright to his handwas made by the Negroes to appear on thebulwarks; whereuponseen with arms in his
hands and in a questionable attitudehe was shot for a renegade seaman;...-that on the person of Don Joaquin was found
secreted a jewelwhichby papers that were discoveredproved to have beenmeant for the shrine of our Lady of Mercy
in Lima; a votive offeringbeforehand prepared and guardedto attest hisgratitudewhen he should have landed in Peru
his last destinationfor the safe conclusion of his entire voyage fromSpain;... -that the jewelwith the other effects of the
late Don Joaquinis in the custody of the brethren of the Hospital deSacerdotesawaiting the decision of the honourable
court;... -thatowing to the condition of the deponentas well as the hastein which the boats departed for the attackthe
Americans were not forewarned that there wereamong the apparent crewapassenger and one of the clerks disguised
by the Negro Babo;... -thatbeside the Negroes killed in the actionsomewere killed after the capture and re-anchoring.HermanMelville Benito Cereno
at nightwhen shackled to the ring-bolts on deck; that these deaths werecommitted by the sailorsere they could be
prevented. That so soon as informed of itCaptain Amasa Delano used all hisauthorityandin particular with his own
handstruck down Martinez Golawhohaving found a razor in the pocket ofan old jacket of hiswhich one of the
shackled Negroes had onwas aiming it at the Negro's throat; that the nobleCaptain Amasa Delano also wrenched from
the hand of Bartholomew Barloa dagger secreted at the time of the massacreof the whiteswith which he was in the act
of stabbing a shackled Negrowhothe same daywith another Negrohadthrown him down and jumped upon him;...
thatfor all the eventsbefalling through so long a timeduring which theship was in the hands of the Negro Babohe
cannot here give account; but thatwhat he has said is the most substantialof what occurs to him at presentand is the
truth under the oath which he has taken; which declaration he affirmed andratifiedafter hearing it read to him.
He said that he is twenty-nine years of ageand broken in body and mind;that when finally dismissed by the
courthe shall not return home to Chilibut betake himself to the monasteryon Mount Agonia without; and signed with
his honourand crossed himselfandfor the timedeparted as he cameinhis litterwith the monk Infelezto the
Hospital de Sacerdotes.
If the deposition of Benito Cereno has served as the key to fit into the lockof the complications which preceded
itthenas a vault whose door has been flung backthe San Dominick's hulllies open to-day.
Hitherto the nature of this narrativebesides rendering the intricacies inthe beginning unavoidablehas more or
less required that many thingsinstead of being set down in the order ofoccurrenceshould be retrospectivelyor
irregularly given; this last is the case with the following passageswhichwill conclude the account:
During the longmild voyage to Limathere wasas before hinteda periodduring which Don Benito a little
recovered his healthorat least in some degreehis tranquillity. Ere thedecided relapse which camethe two captains
had many cordial conversations- their fraternal unreserve in singularcontrast with former withdrawments.
Again and againit was repeatedhow hard it had been to enact the partforced on the Spaniard by Babo.
"Ahmy dear Don Amasa" Don Benito once said"at those verytimes when you thought me so morose and
ungrateful- nay whenas you now admityou half thought me plotting yourmurder- at those very times my heart was
frozen; I could not look at youthinking of whatboth on board this shipand your ownhungfrom other handsover my
kind benefactor. And as God livesDon AmasaI know not whether desire formy own safety alone could have nerved
me to that leap into your boathad it not been for the thought thatdidyouunenlightenedreturn to your shipyoumy
best friendwith all who might be with youstolen uponthat nightin yourhammockswould never in this world have
wakened again. Do but think how you walked this deckhow you sat in thiscabinevery inch of ground mined into
honey-combs under you. Had I dropped the least hintmade the least advancetoward an understanding between us
deathexplosive death- yours as mine- would have ended the scene."
"Truetrue" cried Captain Delanostarting"you saved mylifeDon Benitomore than I yours; saved ittoo
against my knowledge and will."
"Naymy friend" rejoined the Spaniardcourteous even to thepoint of religion"God charmed your lifebut you
saved mine. To think of some things you did- those smilings and chattingsrash pointings and gesturings. For less than
thesethey slew my mateRaneds; but you had the Prince of Heaven's safeconduct through all ambuscades."
"Yesall is owing to ProvidenceI know; but the temper of my mind thatmorning was more than commonly
pleasantwhile the sight of so much suffering- more apparent than real-added to my good naturecompassionand
charityhappily interweaving the three. Had it been otherwisedoubtlessasyou hintsome of my interferences with the
blacks might have ended unhappily enough. Besides thatthose feelings Ispoke of enabled me to get the better of
momentary distrustat times when acuteness might have cost me my lifewithout saving another's. Only at the end did
my suspicions get the better of meand you know how wide of the mark theythen proved."
"Wideindeed" said Don Benitosadly; "you were with me allday; stood with mesat with metalked with me
looked at meate with medrank with me; and yetyour last act was toclutch for a villainnot only an innocent manbut
the most pitiable of all men. To such degree may malign machinations anddeceptions impose. So far may even the best
men errin judging the conduct of one with the recesses of whose conditionhe is not acquainted. But you were forced to
it; and you were in time undeceived. Would thatin both respectsit was soeverand with all men.".HermanMelville Benito Cereno
"I think I understand you; you generalizeDon Benito; and mournfullyenough. But the past is passed; why
moralize upon it? Forget it. Seeyon bright sun has forgotten it allandthe blue seaand the blue sky; these have turned
over new leaves."
"Because they have no memory" he dejectedly replied; "becausethey are not human."
"But these mild trades that now fan your cheekDon Benitodo they notcome with a human-like healing to you?
Warm friendssteadfast friends are the trades."
"With their steadfastness they but waft me to my tombSenor" wasthe foreboding response.
"You are savedDon Benito" cried Captain Delanomore and moreastonished and pained; "you are saved;
what has cast such a shadow upon you?"
There was silencewhile the moody man satslowly and unconsciouslygathering his mantle about himas if it
were a pall.
There was no more conversation that day.
But if the Spaniard's melancholy sometimes ended in muteness upon topics likethe abovethere were others
upon which he never spoke at all; on whichindeedall his old reserves werepiled. Pass over the worst andonly to
elucidatelet an item or two of these be cited. The dress so precise andcostlyworn by him on the day whose events
have been narratedhad not willingly been put on. And that silver-mountedswordapparent symbol of despotic
commandwas notindeeda swordbut the ghost of one. The scabbardartificially stiffenedwas empty.
As for the black- whose brainnot bodyhad schemed and led the revoltwiththe plot- his slight frame
inadequate to that which it heldhad at once yielded to the superiormuscular strength of his captorin the boat. Seeing
all was overhe uttered no soundand could not be forced to. His aspectseemed to say: since I cannot do deedsI will
not speak words. Put in irons in the holdwith the resthe was carried toLima. During the passage Don Benito did not
visit him. Nor thennor at any time afterwould he look at him. Before thetribunal he refused. When pressed by the
judges he fainted. On the testimony of the sailors alone rested the legalidentity of Babo. And yet the Spaniard would
upon occasionverbally refer to the Negroas has been shown; but look onhim he would notor could not.
Some months afterdragged to the gibbet at the tail of a mulethe black methis voiceless end. The body was
burned to ashes; but for many daysthe headthat hive of subtletyfixed ona pole in the Plazametunabashedthe gaze
of the whites; and across the Plaza looked toward St. Bartholomew's churchin whose vaults slept thenas nowthe
recovered bones of Aranda; and across the Rimac bridge looked toward themonasteryon Mount Agonia without;
wherethree months after being dismissed by the courtBenito Cerenoborneon the bierdidindeedfollow his leader.